I was reminded early this year of why the adage, “If you want something done right, do it yourself,” may not be the best advice to base decisions on. I was meeting with my CPA, who was preparing my taxes for the year. Another firm had prepared some of the documents and he was working on finishing up my personal and business returns. He found an error, corrected it and explained it to me. He ended up helping me avoid a $5,000 mistake! I knew if I had tried to file my returns myself I would have missed the error he caught which would have ended up costing me way more than the fee I paid him for his work.
When I think about whether or not I should use an attorney for estate planning or try to do it myself I think back to that moment with my CPA as a powerful reminder of the power of professional expertise. When it comes to estate planning getting it right is even more important because I won’t be around to see the results of the planning or be able to correct mistakes.
Getting it right or getting it wrong when it comes to estate planning could have either a huge positive or negative effect on my family. Do you need an attorney for estate planning? I want to lay out some things for you to consider if you are thinking about how you should plan your estate and considering doing it yourself.
Do you need an attorney for estate planning?
There are many benefits to hiring an attorney for estate planning. A qualified estate lawyer can help guide you through the right questions to consider when planning your estate, often asking you things that you may have not previously considered or had top of mind. They can give you objectivity on legal issues that may be a little clouded for you due to personal emotions on issues relating to your family. For example, “Is it really a good idea to leave a million-dollar estate to your 18-year-old son with no guidelines?”
One huge benefit to having an attorney help you plan your estate is that they can revisit it with you at a later date and update if needed to adjust for changes is your life. A good estate planning lawyer sees estate planning as the start of a relationship with you and brings up good questions at different stages of life for you to consider in order to add to or amend your existing estate plan to make sure it is still the best fit for you.
It may not be good advice to say, “If you want it done right, do it yourself.” However, it is good advice to remember, “that the only constant in life is change.” An estate lawyer helps you adjust and update your estate plan with the constant changes of life.
Another benefit of hiring an estate attorney is that they can help you avoid unnecessary taxation and make sure your estate is structured in a way that your family benefits more than Uncle Sam. The biggest benefit of hiring an attorney for estate planning is that they will help you pay attention to the details. You may have a broad idea of what you want to happen with your assets after you die but a good estate attorney helps you turn that into a detailed plan so that things don’t get missed or that a little detail gets in the way of your main objective.
I’m sure you are already aware of the benefits of hiring an attorney to help you with estate planning but most likely the main reason you have considered doing it yourself is that you want to save money. Everyone is concerned that hiring an attorney for estate planning will be an expensive process. The word attorney tends to make us all want to grab our wallets a little tighter. I can understand that. I’m a saver myself, I’m not sure if it’s because I love saving money or because I hate spending money but the end result is the same.
Even us frugal loving penny-pinchers should consider hiring an attorney for estate planning. Why? Remember my example earlier in the case of my accountant? His professional knowledge of taxes saved me $5,000 so even though I paid him for his work I came out ahead in the deal.
There are times when spending on professional expertise is the best way to protect and save the money you have worked hard to earn. An estate lawyer can help you plan wisely and can even legally help you avoid unnecessary taxes on your estate to preserve your wealth. A desire to save money may not be the best reason to avoid hiring an attorney for estate planning, it may actually be one of the best reasons to hire one!
Isn’t Estate Planning Just Writing Up A Will?
Why do I need a lawyer to write up a will? I have already gone over some of the benefits of hiring an attorney instead of trying to plan your estate yourself but I will go over some of those reasons in more detail.
Key benefits include:
- An objective perspective
- An ongoing relationship to help you adapt and update your estate plan with the changes in your life
- Avoiding unnecessary and expensive taxation
- Making sure that every detail is taken care of
- Having a trusted guide to help you think through important questions regarding your affairs after your death
An Estate Plan Is More Than Just A Will and Testament
Here are 6 Key Documents that should be a part of your estate plan.
1. Estate Plan Questionnaire.
3. Health care power of attorney
4. Financial power of attorney
5. Disposition of personal property
6. Disposition of final remains.
When most people think of estate planning they only think of writing a will. A will is the bedrock of every good estate plan but it is far from being the only important document. A solid estate plan should include all of the documents mentioned above to make sure that every detail is taken care of correctly.
Let’s Look At Some of these documents In More Detail
Health Care Power of Attorney
A power of attorney for health care document is a vitally important part of your estate plan. A health care power of attorney document designates who will make health care decisions for you if you are no longer able to make those decisions for yourself. The person you designate as your health care power of attorney can make medical decisions on your behalf and in your best interests.
You can also layout in this document important and difficult matters like whether or not you want to receive life support. It’s important to not have confusion on these matters or burden family members in the future who do not know your wishes. A health care power of attorney document helps bring clarity to future medical situations and makes sure that important medical decisions will be made by someone you designate that you know will have your best interests at heart.
Financial Power of Attorney
The financial power of attorney is similar to the health care power of attorney but it designates who will make decisions on your behalf in financial matters.
The person who you designate as your financial power of attorney has the authority to pay bills, settle debts, sell property, or handle any other financial matters if you become incapacitated and unable to do this yourself.
Disposition of Personal Property
Remember when you were a kid and right before you did something daring you would tell one of your friends that if you didn’t make it they would get your baseball cards and you would tell another friend they would get your bike.
A disposition of personal property is a grown-up and serious version of that. It may not be needed if you have determined in your will to give your entire estate to one or two people but if you want to be more specific about who might receive certain personal belongings you will need a disposition of personal property document.
How can I determine who is good to use when choosing an estate attorney?
If by now you are convinced of the benefit of hiring an attorney to help plan your estate you may be wondering what criteria to look for in choosing one. You will want to choose someone experienced and with a good reputation.
Since you are now looking at your estate plan as not just a one-time writing of a will but a variety of documents and ongoing living plan that will change and adapt with your life, you will want to choose someone who you feel understands your needs and life situation and will be good to work with moving forward. You will also want to make sure you select an attorney with proper credentials. Look to see if they are a part of other qualified associations such as the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys etc.