Do you need an Estate Plan?
We have all heard the term “estate planning”, which may bring to mind images of a manor somewhere in England. On a basic level, though, the definition of an estate is all of a person’s assets. We all have assets, so we all have an estate and need a plan. If we do not have a plan for our assets the state does, and it may not be to our liking or to the benefit of our heirs. That is why it is so important to work with an Estate Attorney to setup your plan.
What are Wills, Powers of Attorney and Medical Advance Directives?
A basic estate plan includes a will, a power of attorney and a medical advance directive.
Will – more formally known as a last will and testament is a legal document. Your will explains how your property is to be distributed, who will be your executor (or personal representative) – the person who manages the distribution of your estate and may include provisions for naming a guardian for your children among other things.
Power of Attorney – also know as a Letter of Authorization in certain circumstances, is a legal document which gives written authorization for a person to represent or act on another person’s behalf in their financial and legal matters while they are alive.
Medical Advance Directive – also know as a living will or medical power of attorney, is a legal document that specifies what actions should be taken for your health if you are unable to make decisions for yourself.
What is Probate?
You may have heard the term probate, potentially as a bad thing. It is a legal term that can be confusing because it is used as a noun, verb and adjective. Probate is proving the validity of a will in a special court called probate court (in Maryland called the Orphans Court) which deals with distribution of assets for estates. If a person does not have a will, an Estate Administrator will be appointed by the probate court and the laws of the State of Maryland or your home state will determine the distribution of the probate assets. Unfortunately, the law often does not always align with your personal wishes for the distribution of your assets. If you want to save your loved ones from additional stress during an already stressful time, it is important that you have a valid will even if you do not have a comprehensive estate plan.
DIY Estate Plans
Today a lot of estate planning forms can be found online at DIY websites at seemingly reduced prices, but is price alone the deciding factor when you are dealing with complicated legal issues? If you dig a little deeper, you will see that limited attorney support is offered on most of these sites at a price probably equivalent to an attorney’s fee for about an hour. This support is offered because there are many moving parts to an estate plan even if it is a simple one.
These sites provide basic documents that may or may not cover your situation or correctly address the laws in your state. You may spend considerable time deciding if you are protected, only to realize that you do need legal advice. At this point you may possibly decide to take advantage of the attorney support option which will be another charge. Although these sites appear to be convenient and inexpensive, using them may end up costing you time and more money than you expected, and you may still be wondering if you are fully protected.
Personalized Estate Plans
Each person’s situation is unique. Your estate may not be large, but you still may have complicated situations that will require the advice of an attorney with specialized knowledge of estate planning. You may be divorced and have children from each marriage, perhaps you have a child with disabilities, or you may be estranged from one of your relatives and do not want them to receive assets or benefits from your estate. If your estate is large, you will want to minimize the amount of taxes paid by your estate. These are just a few situations where an estate planning attorney can provide expert advice and make sure your situation is addressed and you are protected.
Work with a Trusted Estate Planning Attorney
For most people estate planning is a difficult subject to discuss but working with a trusted advisor can make the process easier. Your attorney understands your situation and knows the law so they will be able to advise you on the best course of action for your estate plan. They will provide the right documents for your unique situation. They can prepare all the necessary documents at the same time ensuring continuity and saving you time and money. Legal paperwork can be overwhelming, but your attorney will keep you motivated to complete your documents. You will feel confident that your attorney knows you, knows your situation, and will treat your relatives with respect and empathy making a stressful situation easier. Most of all you will have completed a difficult task, know that you and your family are protected, and confidently be able to move on to living life to the fullest.