A will attorney, or estate planning attorneys, define themselves as “specialized” and typically work in estate planning or family law firms. Learn more about how they can help you.
Most attorneys specialize in specific elements of the law. The complexity of the law is such that when faced with the prospect of hiring a legal representative, you want someone who has dedicated themselves to the same branch of the law you’re seeking help with. And when you decide to plan for your death, you go to an estate planning attorney first.
Estate planning professionals, or will attorneys, specialize in creating and managing wills and other estate planning documents and help advise their clients on how best to manage their assets both in life and (especially) in death.
A will, or a last will and testament, is a witnessed and a notarized document detailing a decedent’s wishes regarding their assets, belongings, properties, and non-tangible possessions. On the surface, creating and officiating a will sounds simple – you think on what you own, split it between your loved ones, sign it in the presence of a notary and a few witnesses who are, ideally, not the beneficiaries of the will. You keep a copy around for yourself and your lawyer.
But there are nuances behind creating and managing an estate plan, from the last will to the living will, that require more than just an online template and a few signatures. This is generally where a will attorney’s expertise becomes essential.
Are Will Attorneys Optional?
While it isn’t recommended, you can ultimately write your own estate plan from scratch. There are resources to help explain the process and offer all the information you might need along the way.
But not only does this present a significant risk – even simple clerical errors can cost you a fortune down the line – but it’s also an immense time sink.
Therefore, a will attorney might be optional but is certainly recommended. Remember – they do more than draft a single document.
Will attorneys advise you on all aspects of estate planning, help you find reputable and reliable appraisers for your estate, and work with you to recommend and implement important contingencies. Let us explore these for a moment.
The Importance of Professional Estate Planning
There are specific criteria to respect and fulfill when creating a will. These criteria do not exist arbitrarily.
Their purpose is to avoid and circumvent potential disputes and ensure that the document presented after your death is one that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, represents your last will regarding all your earthly possessions and financial responsibilities.
Will attorneys are usually knowledgeable in much more than just will writing and can advise you on other estate planning items.
They can help you navigate the challenges of identifying and defining the roles of individual representatives in your absence or incapacity. This is with regards to your finances and healthcare and ensures that you can choose to whom you leave the task of caring for your minor dependents after death.
Estate planning attorneys are also aware of the numerous state and federal tax implications of dying without an estate plan – and the financial damage that an unexpected death can wreak on a family’s fortune. They can help you identify and implement helpful estate planning tools that allow you to shelter your fortune and help grow your family’s wealth.
Yes, life is about more than just wealth – but no one wants their legacy to be diminished, especially when it can be avoided through careful planning.
Estate plans may include tools such as:
- Trusts Living wills
- Power of attorney documents
- Beneficiary designations
- Life insurance policies
- And more
More Than Just Wills
While wills are one of the simplest ways to name heirs and one of the only ways to name a guardian for a minor child or dependent, other crucial estate planning tools can play a role in helping you preserve wealth and limit time spent in probate.
The first set of common estate planning documents most people should consider is directives and powers of attorney. This helps specify what they are and are not willing to go through should they be incapacitated and cannot provide consent when the time comes. These may range from instructions such as opting out of extraordinary life-saving measures and life support to refusing resuscitation. Advanced directives, such as living wills, help older adults with chronic illnesses or a history of medical problems opt-out of future procedures.
Powers of attorney place the responsibility upon trusted adults (thereafter called “agents”) rather than a document declaring what you would and wouldn’t allow should the time come. These powers can be managed and carefully limited or given liberally with minor restrictions.
A common choice is to create a durable power of attorney, which would allow the agent to act in the name of their principal even when the said principal is incapacitated. A non-durable power of attorney does not give an agent the ability to make medical or financial decisions for their principal if they are incapacitated.
Trusts are yet another flexible element in the estate planning repertoire, designed to hold assets and property in the name of the trust entity and separate them from the grantor (the person who creates and funds the trust). This is important when trying to reduce the size of your estate for probate, separate yourself from specific assets for tax purposes, or shelter assets from creditors in the event of your untimely death.
Aside from these tools, there are many details to work out before an estate plan can be finalized. These plans aren’t exclusive to the rich. Middle-class families stand to save themselves thousands of dollars. They can vastly streamline the transfer of wealth between generations via a simple and efficient estate plan while limiting or even eliminating the risk of probate litigation and estate disputes.
Finding the Right Attorney to Work With
The difference between a DIY will and the product of a skilled will attorney can make or break a person’s financial legacy in the weeks and months after their passing. But before you can sit down to formulate your estate plan, you need to find the right person for the job.
Specialization is important. Will attorneys, or estate planning attorneys, define themselves as such and typically work in estate planning or family law firms that focus on providing comprehensive legal and consultation services for their clients.
Reputation is critical, as well – take your time to find out how past clients describe their experiences with a particular practice or firm and get more information about their case history and successes. Don’t be afraid to shop around, compare services and prices, and track records.