9 reasons why you might need an estate attorney—and more than just a will!
Disclaimer: The information provided is not intended as tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for purposes of avoiding any federal tax penalties. We encourage you to seek specific advice from your personal tax or legal counsel.
Let’s play a game:
Fact or fiction? Estate attorneys are only for the wealthy.
If you guessed fiction, congratulations! You are correct.
Keep reading to learn if you need an estate plan, the benefits of hiring an estate attorney, and all the juicy details therein!
What is an estate plan and an estate attorney?
Although thinking about our passing may be uncomfortable or seem silly for some of us, it’s important that we plan ahead to ensure our assets are in line for our loved ones. Otherwise, the state gets to call the shots about how your estate is divided. Boo!
That means your dog, your child, your inherited jewels from your great-grandmother—yep! The state gets to decide how all of those assets are distributed if you don’t have an estate plan. Now, they’ll take your family and their wishes into consideration but, ultimately, the decision is up to the judge.
That’s where an estate plan comes into play. Your estate plan details where your assets go in the event of your passing. An estate attorney, although not necessary for everyone, will help you comb through the details of this plan.
Do you know what assets you have? Pop into the Pocketnest app and find the Estate and Wills theme. It’ll only take 3 minutes, promise! We’ll ask you some questions tailored to your life and your financial situation, and we’ll help you take it from there.
Can you get by without an estate attorney?
Estate planning attorneys are not necessary for everyone. Some people get by just fine with a will, and others may even write their own estate plan.
If you’re writing your own estate plan, keep in mind that it may seem like a great money-saving hack, but beware! One mistake or wrong word could change the whole intent of the plan and end up costing your family big bucks to fix later on. So tread lightly and please consider this is the place where you probably want some professional help.
If you’re unsure or feel uncomfortable with your plan, the best bet is to at least contact an attorney and talk things through.
How does life insurance affect your estate plan?
Part of reviewing your assets and finding a good future-proof plan for them is life insurance. We all have different life insurance needs, as we all have different families, assets, and financial situations.
Do you have a life insurance plan for you and your family? If you have an attorney, they’ll likely help you set this up. If you don’t, don’t worry; it’s not as hard as it sounds! Pop into the Pocketnest app and head to the insurance theme. We’ll ask you questions tailored to your life and financial situation and share a life insurance calculator to help you determine your life insurance needs.
Who needs an estate attorney
Unlike what you may have heard, or previously thought, you don’t need a 6,000 sq-ft home with an infinity pool and botanical garden in the backyard to hire an estate attorney. Whether your assets are large or small, there are many situations in life when hiring one could be in your best interest—or the best interest of your beneficiaries. (Remember what your assets are? If not, pop into the Pocketnest app and head to the Estate & Wills theme to figure it out—and quickly.) It is less about what your assets are worth and more about where your assets are and where you want them to go after your passing.
If your life and assets are a bit complex, an attorney may be a smart move for you. See below for a checklist for 9 reasons you might want to hire an estate attorney.
Why consider an estate attorney
An estate attorney will help you review all of your assets, think through all your options, and help you get your plan in place. Especially if you have children, a complicated family situation, or significant assets (heirloom items, house, boat, etc.), you might want to involve a professional.
When to consider an estate attorney
Below are some situations to help you determine if you should consider hiring an estate attorney to handle your estate:
You want to reduce taxes, fees and court costs for your loved ones.
Attorneys help you use the law to your advantage in order to reduce or eliminate your estate taxes. But their expertise does not stop there. Estate attorneys can also help your loved ones avoid some or all of the probate court process. (It all depends on your assets!)
You have a family member with a disability.
If you have an immediate family member with a disability that you care for, hiring an estate attorney could help ensure that you have a fit guardian in place to make decisions for this individual upon your passing. This is important, as the guardian will have autonomy to make decisions regarding things such as the individual’s money and healthcare.
Your family is blended.
Do you have any stepchildren, stepparents, step-siblings, or half-siblings? Your assets will likely not go to them automatically. However, actively working with an estate attorney can ensure that these relatives get the assets you designate to them.
You have children under the age of 18.
If you have children who are considered minors according to your state’s laws, you can work with an estate attorney to designate a guardian to take care of your child(ren) if anything were to happen to you. In addition, a conservator may also be needed to manage the assets of the minor(s) before they become legal.
You don’t have any children.
Many think that because they do not have offspring, they have no need for an estate plan. But without heirs, estate planning is a necessary step for those who do not want their money to go to the government after death. In this situation an estate attorney can help you decide what to do with your assets—whether splitting them between friends and family members or donating a portion to charity.
You want to disinherit someone.
If you choose to exclude or remove members of your immediate family from inheriting items from your estate, an estate attorney can help you create an estate plan that will prevent them from receiving any of your assets. Of course, no one wants to have to deal with this uncomfortable situation, but sometimes it’s necessary.
You are a business owner.
If you own a business, you may want to consider hiring an estate attorney to create a plan for the succession of your business, so you can legally name who will inherit and manage your business in the event of your passing.
You own out-of-state or foreign property assets.
Assets are not always straightforward. Many states and countries have different tax codes and laws surrounding this subject. In situations where you have assets in different states or countries, working with an estate attorney can be helpful to ensure that your assets will transfer properly.
You want to donate some or all of your inheritance to charity.
There are many different ways in which you could work charitable giving into your estate plan. You could name a charity as a direct beneficiary in your will, donate your non-Roth IRA assets, or even set up a charitable lead trust or charitable remainder trust. Each option has its pros and cons. An estate attorney could help lay out your options so you can decide which one is right for you.
Keeping your estate plan updated
Whether you decide to work with an estate attorney or not, your estate plan requires ongoing, but minimal, maintenance. Just like apps on your phone, your estate plan can become outdated.
Our lives (and laws) are changing constantly. And these changes mean that we should be frequently reevaluating our estate plans. Say your children are now considered adults under the law or that you sold your small business recently. Sounds like updates are in order!
We recommend looking at your estate plan at least once a year (or after any major life event) to make sure that everything in your plan is still applicable and accounted for.
While an estate attorney will definitely keep this items on your radar, you can also keep your estate plan up to date with Pocketnest! Log into Pocketnest for 3 minutes each week and we’ll help you keep items just like this top of mind. We’ll remind you when you need to check on your plans (whether that’s retirement, investment, estate—you name it!), how to update them, and when to call in a professional.
It is never too early to create your estate plan. So… Ready, Set, Go!