Every estate plan is unique in some ways, but they are similar in others. Unfortunately, the similarities sometimes are the mistakes that seem to get repeated over and over. A powerful reason to hire an estate planning attorney is to obtain the expertise that will help you avoid errors in estate planning.
Pure and simple, it is often a matter of comprehension. Even very smart people may not understand their estate plan. Often, people feel embarrassed to ask questions that may reveal their lack of knowledge, or they feel the language in the documents is “over their head.” Attorneys who specialize in wills know how to walk you through your plan and make sure you understand:
- how the plan works;
- what steps you need to take to maintain the plan;
- how it works for your heirs.
As your attorney walks you through the plan, take notes that you can refer to later. It may all seem clear now, but over time, the details may escape you.
Top probate lawyers tell horror stories in which an ex-spouse inherits and the current spouse doesn’t, or a child or stepchild is excluded from a will because he or she became part of the family long after the documents were created. All of this can happen if your estate planning documents are not worded properly and reviewed periodically to reflect your current wishes and family configuration. Your estate planning attorney will schedule these meetings to ensure there are no unintended and unpleasant surprises for your heirs.
3. Asset ownership
This is an area that also needs review over the years and as your life changes. You may own assets jointly with someone else, or the assets are in entities like limited partnerships or trusts. Your estate planning attorney will review with you the assets named in your plan to determine if the structure still reflects your wishes and purposes. You may have long ago liquidated an asset, and its inclusion in your plan just adds unneeded complexity.
4. Revocable or living trusts
This type of trust is often created for some specific purpose. The estate attorney prepares the agreement and all parties sign it. Then, titles to the assets must be transferred to the trust. This is not necessarily complex, but it must be completed for the trust to serve its purpose. You can count on an experienced estate attorney to follow up with you and make sure these details are taken care of.
5. Coordination of trusts and retirement plans
Sometimes people name their living trusts as beneficiaries of their retirement plans. However, if it is not handled correctly, IRS rules that apply may result in increased taxes. Your attorney will make sure the correct language is used to qualify the trust as a see-through trust that retains tax deferral.
6. Powers of attorney
Everyone should name at least two powers of attorney (one for finances, and one for medical decisions) because many of us will need this before the will and estate plan are called into play. Your estate attorney will make sure you have named powers of attorney and will review them with you periodically to make sure they reflect your current wishes.
There is no substitute for the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney. Be sure to schedule your free consultation with our Chester County estate planning attorney at Perna & Abracht, LLC.