Two hands about to shake after an estate planning consultation

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Estate Planning and Why is it Important?

Estate planning is the process of arranging the management and disposal of a person's estate during their life and after death. This involves creating a comprehensive plan that outlines how your assets, such as property, investments, and personal possessions, will be distributed to your beneficiaries. Estate planning also encompasses other critical aspects, such as designating guardians for minor children, establishing healthcare directives, and minimizing potential tax liabilities.

Estate planning is crucial for several reasons. First and foremost, it ensures that your assets are distributed according to your wishes, giving you control over how your legacy is passed on to your loved ones. By having a well-structured estate plan in place, you can help reduce potential legal issues and disputes among your heirs, saving them time, money, and emotional stress during an already difficult time. Furthermore, proper estate planning can provide peace of mind, knowing that your affairs are in order and that your family will be taken care of according to your desires, even after you are gone.

2. What’s the Difference Between a Will and a Trust?

A will is a legal document that sets forth your wishes regarding the distribution of your property and the care of any minor children upon your death. It becomes effective only after your passing and must go through the probate process, which is a court-supervised procedure for validating the will and overseeing the distribution of assets. A will allows you to appoint an executor who will be responsible for managing your estate, paying any outstanding debts and taxes, and ensuring that your assets are distributed to your designated beneficiaries.

In contrast, a trust is a fiduciary arrangement that allows a third party, known as a trustee, to hold and manage assets on behalf of a beneficiary or beneficiaries. Trusts can become effective during your lifetime or after your death and offer various benefits, such as avoiding probate, providing more control over asset distribution, and offering tax advantages. While both wills and trusts are valuable estate planning tools, they serve different purposes and can be used together to create a comprehensive estate plan tailored to your unique needs and goals.

3. What is Probate?

Probate is the legal process through which a deceased person's estate is properly distributed to heirs and designated beneficiaries and any debt owed to creditors is paid off. This court-supervised procedure involves validating the deceased's will (if there is one), identifying and inventorying the deceased's assets, appraising the property, paying outstanding debts and taxes, and finally distributing the remaining assets to the rightful beneficiaries according to the will or state intestacy laws.

The probate process can be time-consuming, costly, and often emotionally draining for the deceased's loved ones. However, avoiding probate can often be achieved through proper estate planning tools like trusts, joint ownership, and designated beneficiaries on accounts.

We have a number of resources available to help provide more information about probate and the various methods to avoid it. These posts offer a comprehensive overview of the probate process and the estate planning tools available to help you protect your assets and ensure your wishes are carried out:
What is Probate & How to Avoid it - Part 1
What is Probate & How to Avoid it - Part 2

4. Can I Change My Estate Plan Once It’s Set Up?

Yes, you can absolutely change your estate plan once it's been established. In fact, it's crucial to review and update your estate plan periodically to ensure that it continues to reflect your current wishes and circumstances. Life is full of changes, and your estate plan should adapt accordingly.

Several significant life events may warrant a revision of your estate plan. These include marriage, divorce, the birth or adoption of a child, a substantial change in your financial situation, or a relocation to a different state. As your family dynamics, personal relationships, and financial status evolve, your estate plan should be updated to reflect these changes. Additionally, changes in tax laws or other legal requirements may necessitate adjustments to your estate plan to ensure its effectiveness and compliance. To make certain that your plan remains legally sound and aligned with your desires, it's essential to consult with your estate planning attorney who can guide you through the process of reviewing and modifying your plan as needed.

5. Why Should I Consider a Lawyer for Estate Planning Instead of Doing It Myself?

While there are various DIY estate planning options available, such as online templates and pre-printed forms, working with a skilled attorney offers several significant advantages. An experienced estate planning lawyer can provide invaluable guidance and expertise to ensure that your estate plan is tailored to your unique needs, goals, and circumstances. They can help you navigate complex issues like tax implications, asset protection strategies, and making certain that your wishes are legally binding and enforceable.

Estate planning laws vary by state and are subject to change over time. By collaborating with a knowledgeable attorney, you can rest assured that your estate plan complies with current state laws and regulations. This can help minimize the risk of legal challenges or disputes that may arise if your DIY estate plan contains errors, omissions, or outdated information. Moreover, an estate planning lawyer can offer personalized advice and solutions to address your specific concerns, such as providing for a child with special needs, protecting your assets from potential creditors, or ensuring a smooth transition of your business. While DIY estate planning may seem like a cost-effective option, working with a qualified attorney can provide you with the peace of mind that comes from knowing your estate plan is comprehensive, legally sound, and aligned with your wishes.