Only 42% of U.S. adults currently have estate planning documents such as a will or living trust in place. The rest have no way to protect and distribute their assets in the event of their death.
Future planning is not a process that begins when you contract a fatal illness or reach a certain age. It involves regularly assessing the value of your estate and deciding where it should go.
Hiring a professional is the place to begin, but there’s one important thing to know before your first search for an “estate planning attorney near me.” You need to learn how these professionals can help you.
Read on for 6 major benefits of hiring an estate planning attorney.
1. Better Distribution of Your Assets
Your estate includes everything you own, including your house, car, bank accounts, furniture, personal property, and investments. This can be a lot to manage, regardless of your income or net worth.
An estate planning attorney helps ensure that your assets go to the individuals you’ve named in your will.
2. Shorter Probate Process
Probate is the process of distributing an individual’s assets in court after they die. It’s required whether the individual has a will or not.
The process involves several steps, including:
- Appointing a representative
- Turning in the will and death certificate
- Verifying the will using witness testimony
- Appointing a personal representative, also known as an executor
- Getting letters of testamentary that let the executor act on the deceased’s behalf
- Posting a bond to insure against mistakes the executor may make
- Locating assets
- Determining date of death values (i.e., the value of the estate)
- Notifying creditors and paying any remaining debts
- Filing final taxes
- Distributing the estate
The probate process can be lengthy and expensive. It also puts your assets at risk of being misdistributed by the court.
An estate planning attorney can help you through probate or even help you avoid it altogether. One way they can do this is by helping you create a trust that doesn’t have to be verified by the court.
3. Better Legal Documents
There are several reasons you shouldn’t create your own will online.
The process doesn’t allow for customization of who gets your assets. Your heirs could lose them to lawsuits, divorce, or bankruptcy.
An online will isn’t guaranteed to be complete or accurate. It may not meet state requirements.
Creating an online will give you no access to proper legal advice. The company you use can end their services at any time and use your data however they see fit.
Use an estate planning attorney instead to ensure your will is legal.
There are several types of wills, and determining which one you need is the first step.
A self-proving will is the most effective. It’s written by hand, signed, and properly witnessed.
Holographic wills are written by hand but don’t have any witnesses. They may be created in moments of distress when the deceased knew they were dying and had no time to call any witnesses and it’s important to know that holographic wills are not valid in Georgia.
An oral will is a non-written description of what should be done with an estate and is also not valid in Georgia.
A living will or advanced directive specifies what types of end-of-life medical care the writer wants. Though the document contains the word will in its name, it’s not a last will and testament at all. It applies to assisted breathing, tube feeding, electric shock, dialysis, organ donation, and more.
Your will should:
- Be self-proving
- Be written by someone of “sound mind and body” who is at least 18 years old
- List who inherits specific items
- Appoint guardians for minors
- State what happens to property that isn’t named in the will
- Name the executor in charge of the estate
- Be signed, dated, and attested by 2-3 witnesses who aren’t related
An estate planning attorney can also help you create a trust. They’ll ensure you avoid mistakes such as improper setups or distribution of assets.
4. Protection for Your Family and Children
A properly formed will provides financial protection for your family. It also allows you to establish guardianship for your children.
Although it may seem beneficial, be careful when naming your children as beneficiaries. This gives creditors access to any assets or savings you give them.
An estate planning attorney ensures that everything you do throughout the estate planning process benefits your family as much as possible.
5. Lower Taxes
Estate tax refers to the tax that must be paid on assets after death. It generally applies to assets over $11.58 million and ranges from 18-40% of the total value.
Capital gains tax can also apply to bequeathed assets. Any earnings or income beneficiaries receive from them could be taxed, as could the money they earn if they sell them.
A trust can help you reduce the tax burden created by your estate. An irrevocable or bypass trust legally shelters your assets from state and federal taxes.
An estate planning attorney is an expert in estate tax laws. They can find other ways to ensure that your beneficiaries pay the lowest amount of taxes possible on the assets they receive.
The most important benefit of hiring an estate planning attorney is their experience. They understand complex concepts such as estate planning documents, probate, and tax laws.
All of this knowledge allows you to get better results from the estate planning process. The attorney will help you determine and carry out all of your final wishes while financially protecting your family.
Not all attorneys have the same level of experience and researching until you find the right one is an important step in the process. You must find a firm with a positive reputation and fair prices.
Where to Find the Best Estate Planning Attorney
Estate planning protects all your assets, including the most important one: your family. It protects them from receiving a massive financial burden in the event of your death.
Hiring an estate planning attorney to help you through the process ensures you create the best possible plan. They’ll keep your legal documents in order, help you navigate the court, and more.
Smith Baird is a trustworthy legal firm with experience in a range of specialized areas. Contact us to find an estate planning attorney today.