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Estate Planning is Not for Dummies

If you think that you will be saving a few dollars by using forms found on the Internet or in an “Estate Planning for Dummies” book to prepare your estate plan, your family will be in for a rude awakening when they learn that part of your Will, Trust or financial or medical power of attorney is legally invalid.

When that happens, the dollars you thought you saved by “doing it yourself,” and possibly thousands more that you had intended for your loved ones, will be spent working with an estate planning attorney to fix those mistakes.

Just because you can purchase the tools to repair your car online, doesn’t mean it is a good idea for you to get under the hood. Getting an estate plan right the first time is the proven cost-effective approach.

When considering whether to hire an attorney to prepare your Will or Trust, as opposed to writing one yourself, keep one thing in mind: estate planning is serious and complex. Keep this in mind when considering whether to hire an attorney to prepare your Will or Trust. One out-of-place word can change the entire intent of your estate plan. One out-of-place signature can have far-reaching consequences for generations.

Here are some of the reasons why you should tackle this important task with the assistance of an experienced estate planning attorney:

  • Your estate plan must comply with the laws of the state where you live. Virginia law, for example, is very specific about what can and cannot be in your estate planning documents; Virginia law is even more specific about how your estate planning documents must be executed. The smallest mistake can render your documents invalid. In that scenario, instead of administering your estate according to your wishes, your family will be forced to administer your estate according to the laws of intestacy, laws written by the state legislature, for people who die without a valid estate plan in place. Working with an attorney will avoid this kind of simple, yet very costly mistake.
  • Everyone is concerned about taxes. A qualified estate planning attorney will be knowledgeable about the most recent state and federal laws that can affect how your estate is taxed and distributed. Without the assistance of an estate planning attorney, your Will or Trust might result in unnecessary estate taxes.
  • Some of your assets might pass outside of your Will or Trust. Joint accounts or assets with beneficiary designations do not pass through your Will or Trust. For life insurance, annuities, and retirement accounts, beneficiary designations must be proper and accurate to work in concert with your estate plan. If they are not, your estate may not pass as you intended. The result will be chaos for the loved ones you left behind.
  • Changing title to real property has real consequences. Deeds are legal documents that can affect ownership, taxes, and even mortgages. The drastic consequences that can result in some circumstances are completely avoidable with the counsel and advice of an attorney.
  • Joint accounts are part of your estate plan. Depending on how these accounts are titled, you could defeat your entire estate plan, without even knowing it. An estate planning attorney will be able to advise you as to the proper titling of these accounts to ensure that they work in unison with your estate plan.
  • Making gifts of your assets during your life can be a very effective estate planning tool, but only if you know what you are doing. Most people assume that making gifts of their money or property is a simple task. However, the failure to consult with an estate planning attorney before making a gift can have disastrous consequences, including higher estate taxes, or rendering a disabled loved one ineligible for public benefits.

Take a look at your life and your assets to see if you fit into one of the following categories. If one or more of the situations applies to you, then you will need the counsel and advice of an attorney, in order to create a tailored plan that fits your unique needs.

  • You have been married more than once
  • You are not married to your partner
  • You have recently divorced
  • You have children from more than one relationship
  • You have adopted a child
  • You have step-children
  • You do not have children
  • Your wife, husband or child has died
  • You own a business
  • You own real estate in more than one state
  • You have a disabled family member
  • You want to leave some or all of your estate to charity
  • You have substantial assets and are not sure whether your estate is “taxable”

If one or more of these situations applies to you, or if you have questions about any of these situations, then you need the counsel and advice of an experienced estate planning attorney. Someone dedicated to drafting wills, trusts and powers of attorney for persons of all ages. Someone with the expertise to know and understand the needs of the elderly and disabled.

At Hale Ball Carlson Baumgartner Murphy, PLC, our attorneys and staff are dedicated to providing personalized service and quality representation to serve your estate planning needs. Call our offices in Fairfax, Virginia, today at 703-359-9213 or contact us by e-mail now to schedule an appointment.