Estate planning is the best way to secure your financial future and provide for your family even after death. However, because estate plans are customizable, it can be difficult to know where to start. You have options but it is hard to narrow them down which is why we have provided a list of five questions to ask your estate planning attorney. In this guide, we will provide three essential general questions related to your plan and two about your attorney.
Question #1: What Is the Difference Between a Trust and a Will?
The basis for any estate plan is the will. A will is a document that lists beneficiaries, selects a Power of Attorney, and instructions for the deceased’s estate. Wills are legal directives that act as a conduit for your intentions after death. These powerful documents can protect property, and minor children, and provide security for surviving loved ones.
Trusts are legal arrangements for the transfer of assets from the owner (trustor) to the trustee and eventually the beneficiary. A trust establishes the term of transfer and management of all listed assets and their distribution. The trustee is tasked with handling the assets according to the terms of the document and the best interests of the beneficiaries. Trusts can be created during the writer’s lifetime and may be edited over time.
Knowing the difference between the two is crucial to deciding the direction of your estate plan. An estate planning attorney can provide insight and guidance into the process of writing a will and/or establishing a trust. These documents are essential to your estate plan and often act as a jumping-off point for other terms.
Question #2: Do I Need a Power of Attorney?
The Power of Attorney is in charge of making legal (and sometimes medical) decisions on your behalf. Those who serve as a POA are responsible for acting on your behalf when you can no longer decide for yourself whether it is because of health or other circumstances. Without a POA, family members may have difficulty deciding who should make critical decisions and, in some states, the court may appoint a conservator to fill in. Conservators do not always act as proactively as a loved one would and are not as familiar with your assets.
It is also important to understand that selecting a POA is important. This person is your right hand and the decision-maker for you when you cannot speak for yourself. Choosing the wrong person could mean picking someone who only has their best interests in mind and may carry them out to your detriment.
An estate planning attorney can assist you with the selection of a POA and offer impartial legal guidance that may help to narrow the search. The Power of Attorney has a lot of power over your final days and affairs, so you must consult with a legal professional.
Question #3: How Extensive Does My Estate Plan Need to Be?
As mentioned previously, estate plans are tailored to fit your unique circumstances. This is a good thing because you can include clauses and directives specific to you and your family. However, with freedom comes the burden of choice, and deciding how detailed your plan should be can be overwhelming.
An estate planning attorney’s job is to help you decide how deep or shallow your plan needs to be. If you have high-value assets and a lot of beneficiaries, an in-depth estate plan may be more beneficial. On the other hand, if you have no next of kin or you already have trusts that cover the division of assets, a more straightforward plan may be better for you.
Question #4: For Your Attorney: Do You Execute the Estate Plan?
Not all estate planning attorneys are equal, and some may not assist with an estate plan beyond the writing stage. It is important that you establish from the start whether the attorney you higher focuses only on drafting the documents or if they also assist with the execution of the plan. Not only can this inform your decision, but it also helps the attorney to know the scope of your case.
Question #5: For Your Attorney: Will I Be Able to Review All of the Estate Planning Documents?
As mentioned in the previous section, not all estate lawyers approach estate planning the same. Some attorneys may consult with you about the terms and conditions of your plan, draft the documents, and end the case then and there. Others will consult with you and send you drafts of the plan to review to ensure that the terms are correct.
If you do not feel comfortable letting the attorney handle the documents without your approval, be sure to ask the firm at the start if they do not already send drafts that you would like to approve the documents before they are finalized.
Estate planning is complex, but it gives you and your loved one’s security and peace of mind. Asking the right questions not only helps you to get answers but also helps your attorney know what you are looking for.
Drexler Law has assisted countless clients with their estate plans and has extensive experience with wills, trusts, POAs, advance health care directives, and more. Contact our firm today and take the first step toward peace of mind.