Initially, the concept of estate planning is a mystery for many of my clients. That is completely understandable given how many different elements there are to an effective estate plan. Effective planning includes consideration of law of trusts and estates, tax law, asset protection laws, an understanding of the probate process, a basic understanding of finance, an appreciation of how asset ownership determines what legal document controls what asset, basic real property law, and for most people an understanding of how retirement accounts are managed and distributed. And these are only part of the picture. It’s not really realistic for anyone to master or even understand the basics of all of the elements of planning through independent reading and research.
Nevertheless, this kind of self education can be instrumental in producing more effective and useful conversations with professional advisors. At Clarity Legal Group, we consider education not as a prerequisite to starting the planning process but instead as part of the planning itself. Each step of the process will build upon what you learned in the prior step.
With this in mind, I prepared the following list of things you need to know about estate planning to get the most out of your initial planning session with a lawyer at Clarity Legal Group or any other experienced estate planning attorney.
- It is never too early to benefit from an estate plan. A common misconception is that you need to reach a certain age or point in your life before an estate plan becomes necessary. Not true. Every adult can benefit from an estate plan. In truth, the early you start, the more benefit you get from the planning.
- The need for an estate plan is not related to the value of your estate assets. Because estate planning is about much more than just the distribution of your assets, the size of your estate does not determine the need for a plan. I’ve been doing this awhile, and I’ve found that there is no relationship between the amount of one’s wealth and the importance of the wealth.
- Incapacity planning is just as important as planning for your death. While planning for the eventuality of your death is certainly important, it is equally important to plan for the possibility of your own incapacity. Your estate planning attorney can help by incorporating incapacity planning tools and strategies into your comprehensive estate plan.
- Going it alone will not save time and money. It may seem like going the DIY route is a good way to save yourself time and money; however, in the long run, any time and money you manage to save by not working with an experienced estate planning attorney will almost always cost your loved ones considerably more time and money when it comes time to implement your estate plan. In my mind, the whole point of putting a plan in place is to make sure you got it right. This means not only that all the names are spelled correctly, but also that you organized things correctly, using the right legal documents and making sure your asset ownership and beneficiary designations are in sync with those legal documents. A good plan should take into account all of the opportunities to get what you consider to be the best possible outcome as well as protecting you and your family against what might go wrong. The best way to do this is to work with an experienced estate planning attorney working with a law firm focusing only on estate planning and immediately relating issues.
- A routine review and revision of your estate plan is just as important as creating your initial plan. One of the most common, and potentially harmful, mistakes people make is to create an estate plan and then never revisit and revise that plan. Your plan should be routinely reviewed and updated when certain life events call for a revision.
- An estate planning attorney can help you if you need to probate an estate. Estate planning attorneys can help you at both ends of the process – creating an estate plan for you and helping people will administering trusts or estates. If you find yourself appointed as the Executor of an estate, do not try to go it alone. Contact your estate planning attorney for help.
- Your estate planning attorney can serve as your Trustee. Another common mistake people make is automatically appointing a spouse, friend, or family member as the Trustee of a trust. Sometimes, appointing a professional Trustee is the best choice.
- You need to plan for the high cost of long-term care. Planning for the cost of long-term care is something everyone should do. Not all estate planning attorneys work in this area. However, some estate planning attorneys, including the attorneys at Clarity Legal Group, can help you incorporate Medicaid planning into your estate plan to help you qualify for Medicaid should it be an appropriate means of paying the high cost of long term care if you, or a spouse, need it down the road.
- Your estate may be able to avoid probate. With careful estate planning, your estate can probably avoid probate altogether, or at least minimize the exposure of your assets to the courts. This will save your estate money and ensure that intended beneficiaries receive their gifts much sooner.
Contact a North Carolina Estate Planning Attorney
If you have additional questions or concerns about estate planning, or if you are ready to get started on your estate plan, consult with a North Carolina estate planning attorney at Clarity Legal Group by calling us at 919-484-0012 or contact us online.