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Your estate plan is your legal legacy. You can make many end-of-life plans on your own, but you may still need an experienced estate planning lawyer to assist you in several more complex areas.
An estate plan is a lot more than just a list of your assets and who gets them when you die. Your wishes might be relatively simple — "I want everything to go to my kids" — but sometimes complications can arise. It may be worth hiring an estate planning lawyer to make sure those wishes will be more legally effective.
Here are five things that an estate planning lawyer can do that you probably can't:
If you wish to avoid putting your estate through probate, there are several ways a lawyer can help you do it, such as with gifts, the use of death beneficiaries, and joint property ownership. However, the most common way of avoiding both probate and estate taxes (if your estate will be subject to them) is through the use of trusts.
Like wills, trusts provide direction on what happens to your property when you die and who the beneficiaries are. You can create your own trust, but sometimes mistakes can occur in making these decisions, and an estate lawyer may help you avoid them.
In some situations, a simple will that you can do yourself is sufficient. In others, several different types of trusts may be necessary. An estate lawyer can advise you on how much, or how little, heavy lifting your estate plan requires.
They don't reprint your state's probate code every year just to sell more books (although it probably doesn't hurt). Estate planning laws are constantly changing, and estate planning lawyers keep abreast of them. They will know about the newest rules, like the latest IRS exemption limits for estate, gift, and generation-skipping transfer taxes. They may also know about useful recent trends, such as digital estate planning.
Sometimes, there is no getting around the fact that some loved ones will not be happy with the final contents of your estate plan. This could even include wanting to gain financial power of attorney while you are still alive. When disputes arise and cooler heads cannot prevail, you will most likely need an attorney who handles estate and probate litigation to protect your interests.
There are simple, form-based tools available that may address most people's needs when it comes to a will, power of attorney, and health care directives. If you need to alter a provision in a template or form will, you run the risk of invalidating not only that provision but possibly the entire will. In this case, it may be better to have an experienced professional draft important documents from scratch.
Again, you can handle significant portions of estate planning on your own. FindLaw can provide most of the tools you need to make a solid estate plan.
But if you need help, an experienced estate planning attorney can help ensure that your wishes are honored, both in life and in death.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
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