Only proceed with a candidate who responds "yes" to this question. An estate expert will be up to date with any changes in legal codes, and will have the needed strategic expertise to properly phrase your papers in the most effective manner possible.
Obviously, you should seek out the most knowledgeable lawyer imaginable—one who has seen prepared documents work after a client's death. Such attorneys will have encountered problems with the court or IRS and will know how to overcome them.
The common lawyer merely draws up estate-planning documents, while there are others who also handle the execution of trusts. Oftentimes, it's more practical to hire a lawyer that can guarantee that the right assets are transferred into the trust.
It is important to have your estate-planning documents reviewed by an attorney on a semi-annual or annual basis. This allows for necessary changes to be made if you experience a life change or change in finances. New legislative amendments could also potentially change aspects of your estate planning.
One example: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 increased the estate tax and generation-skipping tax exemptions until 2025.
A comprehensive estate plan will include a variety of documents, from wills and trusts to life insurance plans. Make sure your estate attorney is knowledgeable in all these areas so your plan is executed correctly. You might want your estate lawyer to assist you in understanding the intricacies of each estate-planning technique and determining which ones are appropriate for you.
Many estate-planning attorneys charge either a flat fee or by the hour. Some do both, where they might charge you a fixed rate for more common services like setting up a trust, but then bill an hourly rate for anything that requires extra research. You should always ask about how they plan to bill you before getting started in order to avoid any unpleasant surprises later on.
A revocable living trust can prevent the costly and time-consuming probate process (filing a will with the court). However, this isn't always the case, since revocable living trusts don't avoid inheritance, estate, or income taxes.
Some lawyers unfortunately recommend inefficient structures so that they can capitalize off of their client's lack of knowledge.
As people live longer, their chances of developing long-term physical and mental health problems increase. Estate attorneys should assist clients in financially preparing for the possibility of disability or dementia by drafting powers of attorney, healthcare directives, and living wills.
While there isn't usually any urgency, keep in mind that you may want to talk about your estate plan with other experts, such as accountants or money managers. While an estate attorney's expertise can overlap with these topics, he or she may not be a general tax expert or investment advisor. Allow yourself ample time to get a broader, big-picture perspective on your estate plan and the practicalities of putting it into action.
Estate-planning is a crucial but complicated process. You might be working with the best attorney available, however it's still essential that you review all documents and forms to ensure there are no miscommunications. Make sure to understand what can and cannot be changed in the future to avoid any regretful decisions.
Estate-planning attorneys usually make an effort to be available for their clients whenever they need them, but it's also crucial to know that if your lawyer isn't available, someone else will be able to help you.