As an attorney that is there to help someone make decisions for their future, I become a trusted advisor to someone for their lifetime. Because of this unique relationship, as an attorney I maintain contact with my clients continually throughout their lifetimes. I am usually a tangential part of any big changes in their lives, whether good or bad. The unique part of this process for me is that I have the ability to help clients both plan for their future and also support them during the grieving process. A last will and testament memorializes your wishes both for burial or cremation and for the disposition of your assets, either to your loved ones or to a charitable organization that you choose. An attorney also makes sure that the will not only memorializes your wishes, but also that the estate administration process is as efficient and practical possible given your wishes, assets and family dynamic. This includes helping you choose fiduciaries or creating a trust that will suit your goals and needs.
The Risks of Dying Without a Will
If you die without a will, then the laws of your state take effect and govern your assets. State laws differ. Based on the laws of your state, there may be consequences that you were not aware of, such as unintended beneficiaries receiving your estate, or your spouse not being provided for in the manner that you wished or intended. The state law also dictates who will serve in the fiduciary capacity of personal representative or executor for your estate. This may not necessarily be someone you would have chosen to represent your estate or to honor your wishes.
The Role of an Attorney
An attorney deals primarily with the client. Sometimes an attorney can educate the family on the overall estate plan at the client’s request. Primarily, however, the attorney’s duties of confidentiality are just to the client during the estate planning process.
After death, the attorney assists the representative and/or trustee with the administration of the estate plans. Often, this involves filing the necessary paperwork to qualify the named individual as personal representative. The fiduciary of the estate can be either a trustee or a personal representative, or both, depending on the nature of the estate plan. The fiduciary and the estate planning attorney work together to marshal the assets of the estate, review any outstanding debts, file any additional required reports with the court, and to have the necessary tax returns prepared and filed. Once that is all completed, the estate planning attorney and the fiduciary work together to officiate the disposition of the assets according to the terms of the will or trust.
One common misperception about wills is that there is a formal will reading. This is often portrayed in films and movies. The truth is, however, that there is no formal will reading. Another misconception is how long the process can take. Most often, the process takes about a year, which is longer than people expect.