When people hear the term “estate,” they think this term only applies to the rich. However, the term really just means the total of everything that a person legally owns. This can include money, real estate, personal property, copyrights, trademarks, and any rights and entitlements to any type of property. Even if a person’s estate is small, estate planning is important. After an individual dies, if there was no estate planning done before the individual’s passing, the process of distributing the deceased’s assets to the rightful beneficiaries might not be as clear-cut as one might hope. If proper estate planning was done with an experienced attorney before the individual passed away, this can mitigate a lot of problems.
Almost everyone knows what a will is. A person can write a will stating who will inherit his property after he dies without any estate planning. However, people often do not realize that the heirs can be subject to paying high estate taxes on the inheritance. Property has to go through a probate process with the courts. Not only does that take time, but it also adds court costs that the heirs are responsible for. This can be expensive.
The goal of an estate planning attorney is to help his client preserve the value of his assets for his beneficiaries so that these types of costs can be reduced or avoided. An attorney in this area of expertise can help his client draft a trust that will detail exactly how the client wants his assets to be distributed among his beneficiaries and when the assets can be passed.
The attorney tailors the trust to the client’s wishes, so there is no “one size fits all” method. The client can be very specific with his wishes. He can even include conditions for his inheritance that the beneficiaries must fulfill before they can get the assets. The attorney makes sure that the verbiage of the trust is worded clearly so that there is no room for misinterpretation in case anyone challenges the content of the trust.
The attorney can also help his client establish guardianship for his children if they are still minors after the client passes away and there is no other parent. This is important because guardianship does not necessarily have to go to the next of kin. If this is established in a trust, there will be no question as to who will be the children’s legal guardians if the parents are deceased.
What if the individual has not passed away, but becomes incapacitated mentally and can longer make decisions for himself or his family? Estate planning can include health care directives and power of attorney. During the planning process, the attorney will ask the client to designate a trusted individual to act on his behalf in the event that he becomes incapacitated. In the healthcare directive, the client can express his wishes on what actions should be carried out on his healthcare if he becomes too ill to make any decisions.
So, estate planning is more than a will. It includes many components that direct how a person’s estate and family will be taken care of after the individual dies, and who can take care of the person’s affairs if he no longer has the capacity to do so. The estate planning attorney plays a key role in ensuring all of the trust documents are legally binding and executed. The client can have peace of mind knowing that there is a plan in place on how his affairs should be taken care of when he is no longer able to do it himself.