Only about a third of Americans have an estate plan, according to the article “Choosing an estate planning lawyer” from Senior Matters. The number of people with wills is decreasing, rather than increasing, despite the events of recent years. Estate planning is worth doing, for the peace of mind, the personal and financial protection it provides, not to mention leaving a legacy of caring about the future for the next generation.
Estate planning involves making end-of-life decisions, with an emphasis on both finances and health. Most people think of estate planning as “who gets what,” which is accomplished largely through wills and trusts. For people who have amassed significant assets, this can be complex. An estate planning attorney makes it streamlined and will explain the implications of all aspects of the estate plan.
Estate planning includes gifting, generation skipping transfers, taxes, advance directives, power of attorney, health care proxies, living wills, naming an executor, organ donations, burial preferences, Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders and final wishes.
Estate planning is a highly personal process. This is why it’s important to find an estate planning attorney who is compassionate, as well as technically proficient. Estate planning attorneys tend to be caring individuals who chose this field of law because they sincerely wish to help others. They also know what happens when estate planning is not done, because they also help children when their parents fail to do estate planning.
Some people are reluctant to embark on estate planning, in part because they don’t wish to be reminded of their own mortality. Others are concerned about relatives with designs on their estate. However, not having an estate plan makes it more likely that relatives or others could challenge the estate and end up owning assets. An estate plan provides protection.
When a person dies without an estate plan and assets subject to probate, their estate is considered to be “intestate.” Only the court will have any control over how the probate assets are distributed. The probate court will simply follow the laws of your state, which frequently are based on kinship. The exact details vary from state to state, and this is known as “intestate succession.”
The intestate laws may result in outcomes completely different than what you wished. An estranged spouse could end up owning everything, or a child with substance issues could inherit a substantial sum which will be gone in months. In most states, minor children may not receive inheritances, so trusts or custodial accounts are needed.
Estate planning is just as important for people of modest means as it is for wealthy people. If a senior owns their own home, the increase in property values could mean their estate is much bigger than they even realize.
Choosing an estate planning lawyer isn’t difficult. Ask friends and family for referrals, visit websites and find an estate planning attorney who shares your values, understands your family and feels like a good fit. Once your estate plan is in place, you’ll gain peace of mind.
Reference: Senior Matters (Aug. 17, 2022) “Choosing an estate planning lawyer”