Many people think that estate planning is simple: You just press a button on a word processor and out comes a Will or other document that does just what you want. However, it’s just not that simple.
There are many reasons that it takes someone with years of education and practical experience to advise you and prepare documents to accomplish your wishes. Typically, you have not even thought of all the questions, much less the answers and why they are important.
For example, many people think in terms of giving specific assets to specific people. Sometimes this works. But, oftentimes people do not consider the possibility that their estate planning documents could become effective at their death decades in the future. Will you still have that IBM stock you had planned to leave to Johnny? Will you still have the lake house you had planned to leave to Betty? What should happen if you had sold one or both prior to your death? What if the IBM stock had gone the way of Enron and the lake house had skyrocketed in value? If there are expenses and taxes to pay, should the recipient of each gift pay his or her share of the expenses and taxes or should some recipients receive their gifts without the burden of expenses and taxes?
As you can see, there are many practical questions which a qualified estate planning attorney will know to consider. There are also many technical legal and tax issues which you might never spot, until your heirs end up in conflict or the IRS is knocking at their doors. For example, Powers of Attorney, which appoint an Agent to make financial decisions for you, are very common and useful documents. However, if the Power of Attorney is not carefully drafted, it can cause the value of all of your assets to be included in the estate of the agent. In addition to overlooked problems, without a qualified estate planning attorney you can miss opportunities to plan for Medicaid qualification, to avoid probate, to reduce income, estate, gift, and other taxes, and to provide for your family.
A qualified estate planning attorney examines your unique situation and goals, your family and financial circumstances, and tailors a plan to meet your needs. From a simple Will or Trust to a complex plan including multiple advanced planning strategies, not every tool is applicable in every situation. Whether you are just starting out in life, or are in your twilight years, a qualified estate planning attorney can listen to your goals and tailor a plan that is best able to achieve those goals.
Visit our website at www.smithbarid.com for additional answers to your estate planning questions.
Mr. Michael H. Smith is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys and has been engaged in the practice of law for the last ten years.