What kinds of matters do estate law attorneys help with?
While most people have an idea of what they’d like to happen to their assets after they die, not as many are ready to actually sit down and chart out a plan of action to make those wishes come true. The urge to avoid talking about one’s own demise is certainly understandable, but leaving these matters to fate (or more accurately, leaving them in the hands of a probate court) is not the best way to go.
Working with a skilled estate planning attorney can ensure your wishes are carried out in a fair and orderly manner. The following points are just some of the benefits of working with an estate planning attorney.
An estate attorney can help you avoid probate
Probate is the legal process through which a court authenticates your will and approves your chosen Executor so that they can begin distributing your assets according to your documented wishes. If you don’t have a will in place, probate focuses on determining how your assets should be divided, which is not always a simple and straightforward process.
Having a solid estate plan outlined and in place before your death can simplify the probate process, or in some cases, eliminate the process entirely.
How can an estate attorney protect certain assets from the probate process?
With proper planning, some assets don’t need to go through the probate process to pass directly to your chosen heirs. Examples include assets that have a named beneficiary. Life insurance is a common example, and once the death is certified the funds are paid directly to the named beneficiary. Money held in savings or investment accounts will also usually have a named beneficiary and can bypass the probate process.
Wealth placed within a trust can also be exempt from the probate process. The structure of a trust is such that once assets are transferred in, the trust itself becomes the “owner” of the assets, and the beneficiaries named within the trust are entitled to those assets at the predetermined time.
If you own property with another person and that property is titled jointly with Survivor’s Rights, the property will automatically transfer to the survivor upon your death.
Can an estate attorney reduce tax liabilities for heirs?
An experienced estate attorney understands the complexities of taxation and inheritance. There are many different ways to shelter assets from taxation so that your heirs receive as much of your wealth as possible.
Creating trusts is one of the most popular ways of avoiding estate taxes. There are numerous ways to construct trusts, and a solution to fit virtually every set of needs.
Lifetime gifts to children and grandchildren that won’t incur taxes are capped at an amount of $12,000 per year, per individual. However, both spouses can give $12,000 to each child or grandchild, so larger families can protect a lot of wealth from taxation using this method.
Charitable giving is also an effective and popular way to reduce estate taxes. By giving during your lifetime you will not only avoid estate taxes but also receive an income tax deduction. A charitable trust gives your named heirs the opportunity to participate in distributing wealth to worthy causes.
How can an estate attorney make things easier for surviving loved ones after a loss?
One of the biggest reasons to work with an estate planning attorney to remove some of the burdens that often falls upon the shoulders of surviving loved ones. While most people want to pass on in a calm, peaceful, and predictable manner, with plenty of time to say goodbye to loved ones, the reality of death is often far less orderly.
When your family members are shocked by a sudden loss or struggling to come to terms with the situation, being thrown into funeral planning and final arrangements can be incredibly stressful. Having a clearly outlined estate plan can make a world of difference as your loved ones navigate the days and weeks after your passing.
When you work with an estate attorney, you can be as detailed as you’d like in regard to outlining your final arrangements. Some people prefer to choose their own casket, burial plot, and even who will perform the service and which funeral home will handle the process. Others simply want to give their loved ones an overview of their wishes, and allow their spouse or children to choose the details of the funeral.
In most cases, the more you can do to make your wishes known in advance of your death, the easier the process will be on those left behind. In many ways, this is a final act of love and care you can provide for those you’re closest to.
Can an estate planning reduce friction between surviving family members?
Even in a warm and loving family, the death of a loved one can throw everyone into a bit of a tailspin. It isn’t uncommon for some family members to take issue with the manner in which assets are shared among the heirs.
Even when assets are divided perfectly equally, it’s possible for one heir to feel strongly that they deserve a larger share of the wealth than another. This can create rifts between family members that can linger for the rest of their lives.
With proper estate planning, you can clearly outline which heirs are to receive what assets, and you can even provide details of why you chose to divide the wealth in that manner. If possible, sit down with your heirs and discuss how you plan to distribute assets, which can prevent strife when the time comes to set those plans into action.
How should I move forward with finding a good estate planning attorney?
When you’re ready to sit down with a skilled estate planning attorney, asking friends and family if they have a preferred attorney is a great place to begin. You can also perform a search for an attorney in your area, and read feedback from other clients on their experiences. Regardless of how you find your estate planning attorney, rest assured you are taking steps to make things easier on your loved ones down the road.