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What Is Estate Planning Law?

An estate consists of a person's real estate and personal property at death. The practice area of estate planning law can include the following estate planning documents:

  • Last will and testament
  • Living wills
  • Health care directives
  • Living trusts
  • Irrevocable living trusts
  • Powers of attorney

Other documents and processes can facilitate the transfer and management of property after death. Additional tools can include:

When someone dies without a will, their possessions will be distributed to family members as defined by state law. Property is distributed to their next of kin according to state law.

Some individuals never create an estate plan. When this happens, the individual forfeits the ability to control property distribution if their wishes differ from state law.

Contact an estate planner if you need legal advice or guidance regarding an estate plan. An estate planning attorney with years of experience helping families should bring peace of mind. A good estate planning lawyer can explain how estate law impacts your situation and provide the legal services you need.

Estate Planning Law: Terms to Know

Knowing key terms can help you understand estate planning law. These terms include the following:

  • Intestate: Someone is intestate when they die without creating a valid will or disposing of the property by a valid will.
  • Advance Directive: A document (i.e., living will or durable power of attorney) in which a person expresses their wishes regarding medical treatment in the event of incapacitation.
  • Probate: Probate is the legal process of transferring property upon a person's death, particularly in the absence of a will.
  • Real Property: Real property consists of land, buildings, crops, or other resources still attached to or within the land or improvements, or fixtures permanently attached to the land or a structure on it.
  • Inheritance: Inheritance is the real or personal property acquired under the laws of intestacy or sometimes by a will.

Do You Need an Estate Planning Lawyer?

Depending on the estate's complexity, the individual's health, and other factors, practically everyone may need the services of an estate planning lawyer. Sometimes individuals will work with a lawyer on behalf of a relative or loved one who can no longer manage their affairs.

Engaging an Estate Planning Attorney

Whether you received a referral from a trusted friend, a local bar association, or an online estate planning finder, finding the right estate planning lawyer is essential. You should feel comfortable communicating with the attorney, and they should take the time to listen to you. They should also be responsive to your communication.

When seeking help in estate law from an attorney, you may wonder what it will cost. Don't hesitate to ask about the costs during your preliminary research stage. You do not have to wait until the first meeting. The attorney should break down their fee structures either by an hourly rate or by a flat fee.

The flat fee will depend on your estate planning goals and the particular estate planning documents you need. Your attorney should expect to provide fee information, so ask. You should have this information going into the estate planning process.

Common Estate Planning Documents

Reasons for hiring an estate planning lawyer can vary widely. For example, some families create trusts to benefit minor children. A trust is a document similar to a will. Unlike a will, you can use a trust to manage property before death.

A trust is a legal arrangement in which one party holds legal title to another's property as a trustee. The trustee manages the property on behalf of selected individual beneficiaries. Property held in a trust can avoid the probate process. As such, the probate court is not involved in administering the trust.

In addition to trusts, common estate planning documents include:

  • Wills: Wills are legal documents specifying how an individual's property and affairs will be transferred and managed after death.
  • Living Wills: (Healthcare Directives): This legal document outlines medical and end-of-life preferences in case you cannot communicate these wishes.
  • Power of Attorney: Power of Attorney provides an agent authority to act on your behalf, such as handling personal finance matters.
  • An Overall Estate Plan: Estate planning attorneys often work with clients more comprehensively. They do this by assessing an individual's estate, asking about preferences and life goals, and advising on the client's options.

Estate Planning Law: Related Practice Areas

Like many other legal specialties, estate planning law overlaps various practice areas. These practice areas include the following:

Learning about related practice areas can give you a complete picture of the estate planning process. An estate planning attorney can also guide you through the process.

Contact an Estate Planning Attorney Today

Although it can be challenging to discuss, death is a reality everyone must face. Why not deal with this inevitable outcome with a thoughtful strategy?

Help loved ones by detailing what will happen with your estate. Get peace of mind by talking to an experienced estate planning attorney today. They can tailor a plan to your particular needs. Or, if you have a simple estate, you may want to explore FindLaw's DIY options.

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