If you've never discussed long-term issues with an estate planning lawyer, you might be surprised by how many different tools will be at your disposal. People typically picture an estate planning attorney as someone who helps you make a will. There are many more issues that ought to be addressed, however, so here is a look at why just using a will might not be an ideal solution.
Concerns About Probate
One of the most common worries someone will have when they hire an estate planning lawyer is that there will be a contest over the disposition of their assets. When this happens, the go-to solution for the courts is to resolve matters through a probate court. This is a court that's empowered to address issues involving estates, and they can make rulings interpreting what your will means and how it should be executed. Under circumstances where an executor isn't named or is unable to do the job, the probate court can even appoint an administrator to handle the disposition of assets.
It's not always possible to completely avoid probate, but there are a few tools an estate planning lawyer will use. The first is the use of trusts, instruments designed to make assets and money available to beneficiaries without fully relinquishing control of them. A second tool is the use of payable-upon-death declarations for certain kinds of accounts. Also, marriage can be a tool that allows many assets to go directly to a surviving spouse without probate. Finally, you might simply gift a certain amount of assets every year while you're still alive.
Speed of Transfer
Another issue worth looking at is how quickly assets might be transferred. For example, if a surviving spouse or a beneficiary needs access to money to pay for long-term medical care, holding things up for the estate process can be a serious threat to their health. Even if the estate doesn't go to probate, the executor will still have to take their time to track down beneficiaries, pay off taxes and debts, and organize all of the transfers. Using a tool like a trust may get assets into the possession of the folks who need them faster.
Taxes and Debts
One of the biggest mistakes people make in estate planning is not properly funding the payment of taxes and outstanding debts. Governments and creditors have the easiest path to probate, and an estate will not be settled until they're either paid or the whole estate is liquidated. Set aside funds for your taxes and debts, and include money to cover taxes for beneficiaries, too.
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