You can access and fill out various estate planning documents without consulting a lawyer. There are even software programs and on-line services to help you do it. So, you might ask, what’s wrong with doing my estate planning that way? Plenty. And the consequences can be financially and emotionally catastrophic for both you and your loved ones.
A lawyer who focuses on estate planning has the knowledge, judgment and experience necessary to avoid innumerable potential mistakes and advise the best course of action in your particular situation. Every family is unique, with highly specific dynamics, concerns and goals. An estate planning lawyer can take these into account and create a customized plan capable of meeting your goals and anticipating potential problems down the road. Potential problems include:
- Ambiguity about your intentions that leads to conflicts among family members after you pass away. Arguments over “who gets what” often wind up in court, with part of your estate going to pay legal fees to resolve the disputes. In addition, emotionally charged disputes like these can result in hard feelings among family members that last a lifetime.
- Failure to anticipate the possibility of changes in your family, such as divorce and remarriage. Changes such as these can thwart your wishes regarding the distribution of your assets.
- Improperly designed trusts that may actually conflict with your will, or in the case of special needs trusts, jeopardize eligibility for government assistance programs.
- Improperly funded trusts (or trusts that are not funded at all, which makes them worth less than the paper they are printed on).
- Failure to choose an appropriate guardian for your children or spouse (or for yourself in the event of incapacity).
- Missed opportunities to minimize estate and other taxes.
All of these problems, and many more, can be avoided by working with an attorney who focuses on estate planning and closely related areas of the law. Computer software and on-line legal services cannot advise you personally and make informed recommendations for your particular needs and family dynamics.
It is important to note that attorneys who do not focus on estate planning may miss opportunities to protect your assets and ensure a cost-effective, streamlined distribution of your estate. You wouldn’t go to a pediatrician for open-heart surgery, so why would you consult a general practitioner to design and implement your estate plan? Attorneys who focus on estate planning have knowledge of, and experience with, the subtleties of estate planning strategies and laws.
As for people who call themselves “estate planners” but do not have a law degree, it is unlikely that they have the substantive knowledge of Arizona and Federal law necessary to create a proper plan. Of course, they can’t implement a plan of any kind because they are not allowed to prepare legal documents.
You might be interested to know that many estate planning attorneys actually earn the majority of their revenue “fixing” faulty estate plans created by computer software, on-line services and people who do not specialize in this complicated area of the law.
Discover the advantages of working with an estate planning attorney. Contact us today for a consultation.