I am single with no children. Why do I need an estate plan?
Estate planning isn’t just for married people with children. Having a will, powers of attorney, a trust or other estate planning documents in place is important for everyone. Estate planning allows you to determine what will happen to your assets and to you in the event of your incapacity, disability, or death. Many people without immediate family choose to leave their assets, even if their estate is small, to parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, friends, or charities and causes they believe in or support. Without a will, the government will decide who gets what, not you. With a will and other documents, you can make your own decisions such as expressing your desires for funeral arrangements and disposition of your last remains. In terms of incapacity or disability, estate planning allows you to plan for the situation where you become incapacitated or disabled and are unable to make decisions for yourself. Without those plans, the government and the courts will determine who makes those decisions for you. In the process what assets you do have may be depleted and ultimately the decisions that eventually are made for you, may not be the same as what you would have wanted.
How much does estate planning cost?
This question is kind of like going to the doctor and saying, “My shoulder hurts, how much will it cost to make it better?” Before the doctor can answer that, he or she needs to examine you, get a medical history, maybe do some testing and then finally come up with a diagnosis and treatment plan. We all understand that. Estate planning is not too different from that process. The cost of estate planning can vary greatly depending on your needs and goals. Since everyone is unique, we don’t believe in a cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all approaches to helping our clients. So until we know more about you, your needs and your goals, it would be a disservice to you to suggest a price. Fortunately, in estate planning we rarely need to do costly “testing.” That’s why we offer a free 30-minute consultation, to learn about you, your needs, and your goals. Once we gather that information, we can start to develop a plan and determine what the fees will be.
Why shouldn’t I just use a website to get a will or other documents?
The Internet is a wonderful resource for many things. It can provide all kinds of information (much of which is actually true). Unfortunately, going to a website for a will, power of attorney, or trust skips over any discussions of your needs or goals and gives you very little information about what various documents can do for you. In addition, you don’t have someone looking out for you and your interests when making a plan. If you look carefully, legal document websites often have disclaimers indicating that they are not acting as your attorney and are not providing legal advice. So, you need to already know what you need and how it fits into your plan before you go to the website. It would be kind of like taking your car to the mechanic because it’s not running, and the mechanic asking you to tell them what to fix. If you know the battery is dead, you can tell them to replace the battery. But if you are like most people, you take it to the mechanic to find out what needs to be done. The advantage of working with an experienced attorney is that we will sit down with you, go over your current plan, your assets, your needs and goals and then help you develop a plan that works for you.
When should I update my estate plan?
Estate planning is not a static process where you prepare documents and then never have to do anything again. Just as things change in our lives, our needs and goals change as well. An estate plan that works for a young married couple may not meet the needs if they have children. Significant life events such as marriage, divorce, birth of children or grandchildren, moves to another city or state, starting or selling a business, children reaching adulthood, retirement, inheritance, disability, death of spouses or other persons who may be part of the estate plan, changes in assets, and a host of other things which may occur often require a evaluation and updating of your estate plan to make sure that it continues to meet your needs and accomplish your goals. We recommend that our clients speak with us when any of these significant events occur, but at least every one to two years, to discuss if changes need to be made.
What is a trust?
Trusts are a great estate planning tool. While the legal details of a trust can be complicated, here is a simple overview. A trust is a type of contract. Trusts are managed by a trustee or trustees, which is usually one or more people or an institution such a bank. Property placed in a trust generally is titled in the name of the trustee. The property is then held for the benefit of certain people as determined by the terms of the trust. These people are known as beneficiaries. Depending on the terms of the trust, the beneficiaries frequently have access to some or all of the income or assets in the trust. Trusts may be revocable (sometimes known as Living Trusts) or irrevocable. Revocable trusts generally have the characteristic that the beneficiary(s) can freely transfer assets in and out of the trust. Irrevocable trusts generally have limitations and conditions on how the assets can be used by the beneficiaries and how and to whom those assets may be distributed. Trusts have many aspects and types, and this is just a simplified explanation. For a more detailed explanation you can contact our office to set up a consultation.
Do I need a trust?
Whether an individual or couple needs a trust really depends on their specific estate planning needs and goals. A trust can allow for privacy and the avoidance of probate, management of assets during times of disability, asset protection (depending on the type of trust), avoidance of costly fights over wills, additional control over distribution of assets upon your death, protection of assets for future generations including minor and adult children, and many other things.