Unlike other types of contract law, an estate planning attorney deals with individuals and individual family dynamics. There is an interplay between the laws, what is expressed in the document, and how it actually works from a practical standpoint. The best source of determining what will work in a last will and testament is the client. The client is in a far better position to understand his or her own family dynamics. The process of estate planning is really a collaboration between the client and the estate planning attorney to create a plan that fits the family. This means that every plan is slightly different because the process differs for every client given the nature of the family dynamics and personalities involved.
Estate planning is, generally, planning for the loss of your capacity during your lifetime, and the disposition of your assets after your death. Most estate plans may include a last will and testament, a trust or trust provisions, health care power of attorney or advanced medical directives, and a durable power of attorney. The goal is to think ahead and be prepared, so that someone is able to readily step in to handle your financial and legal affairs or health care decisions in the event of your incapacity, or to administer your estate at your death.
Our Approach to Planning an Estate
To begin the estate planning process, typically I will send you a questionnaire that will help you to begin to think about the decisions that you will have to make during our first meeting, and to begin to list the nature of your assets. I will then sit with you and discuss what assets you currently have, how they are titled, how you want to dispose of your assets, who are the general beneficiaries, and, most importantly, who you would like to name as your personal representatives, trustees, attorney-in-fact, and health care agent.
I frequently work with a client’s financial advisor and even accountant so that a comprehensive estate plan can be created to achieve the clients’ goals.
The Role of an Attorney
The role of the estate planning attorney is to help you make educated decisions about planning for your future. The attorney will take your wishes and guide you to the best overall plan, advising you along the way, such as considering what the tax consequences of different plans may be. Further, you and the estate planning attorney work together to create a document that not only express your wishes, but that also complies with the law. A well-crafted estate plan may minimize exposure to taxes and reduce administrative expenses.
Having an attorney present when planning your estate means that you have the benefit of their experience in administering estates and trusts. An attorney will know the law and know how to close any gaps you may not think of in your plans.
For example, an attorney can come up with creative solutions to avoid conflict. Also, an attorney can be beneficial in handling family dynamics in what can be a sensitive, yet extremely important, time. Further, an attorney is invaluable in explaining the law, the details of the plan and how it must be administered, or just generally providing advice and recommendations from experience along the way. The attorney also assists the fiduciaries in understanding their roles. An attorney can also make sure that a document is executed properly pursuant to the laws a specific jurisdiction.