Estate Planning Lawyer. An estate refers to a person’s net worth and includes their assets, such as their interests, legal rights, and property. People need to establish, maintain, and protect their estates properly, especially when they’re no longer living.
An estate planning attorney helps individuals plan for the disposal of their estate and establish a will, trust, and power of attorney.
Estate Planning Lawyer
An estate lawyer is a bar-certified attorney who specializes in estate planning and assists clients in drafting and implementing legal documents, including wills and trusts. Estate law is closely related to family law since lawyers often work with related individuals who are involved with an estate.
If you enter this legal specialty, you’ll arrange and organize the transfer of assets from an individual to the heirs and beneficiaries.
What Is Estate Planning?
Estate planning is a broad term that is used to describe the process that individuals go through to plan the administration of their assets and liabilities before and after they die. This process also includes writing a will, reviewing accounts and assets, creating joint accounts, preparing other legal documents, and appointing an executor, among other things.
What Is an Estate Planner?
An estate planner (or estate planning lawyer) is a licensed lawyer who specializes in end-of-life planning. Also known as an estate probate attorney or an estate planner, they can help educate you on the estate planning process and the laws that affect the transfer, disbursement, and taxation of your estate.
What Do Estate Attorneys Do?
An estate lawyer may perform a variety of duties, such as:
- Provide counsel for clients seeking to establish a trust to designate a portion of their assets for a future beneficiary.
- Advise clients about charitable contributions, life insurance policies, and retirement plans.
- Administer clients’ estates based on their wills or revocable living trusts.
- Assist clients in settling their financial affairs before their end of life.
- Ensure the honoring of the property and health care wishes of clients.
- Facilitate the transfer of titles within an estate.
Do I Need an Estate Planning Attorney?
Whether you need an estate planning attorney depends on your unique circumstances, but some factors could affect your decision. Here are a few to consider.
You May Need an Attorney If:
You’re At Risk for Incapacity
A well-planned estate is essential for those with chronic health conditions or disabilities. If there’s likely to be a time when you can’t manage your money and health by yourself, an attorney can help you and your loved ones make use of directive documents and advocate for your needs, especially if they have experience in elder or disability law.
You Have Kids
Proper estate planning makes a big difference if you have minor children or dependents, as another adult may need to manage your assets until the child comes of age. This usually requires trust, which is more complex than a will.
Your State Has Its Own Estate or Inheritance Taxes
The federal estate tax ranges from 18% to 40% and generally only applies to assets over $12.06 million in 2022 or $12.92 million in 2023. However, some states have estate taxes, too. In Massachusetts, for example, assets over $1 million are taxed, which homeowners and life insurance policyholders will likely easily meet. An estate planning attorney can help you navigate your state’s specific laws.
You’re Uncomfortable Navigating the Legal Process
Estate planning documents include specific language that may carry different meanings depending on the situation. An estate planning attorney can answer questions you may not have considered.
You May Not Need an Attorney If:
Everything You Own Is in Beneficiary-Designated Accounts
Many people have most of their savings in retirement and insurance accounts, such as a Roth IRA or a 401(k). These assets typically pass to the beneficiary you name on the account, not in your will, so if your beneficiaries are straightforward (and not minor children), you may not need advanced estate planning assistance.
Your Estate Planning Starts Simple, And You Can Hire a Lawyer in The Future
You can always start the estate planning process independently and consult an expert as your situation and plans evolve, especially as you age or if your health changes.
Your Lawyer Doesn’t Customize the Process for You
Not all lawyers are created equal; some may provide a service equivalent to online estate planning software but don’t go above and beyond. A lawyer who carefully coordinates your assets may be more costly, but it’s likely to pay off in the long run.
How To Find an Estate Planning Attorney
Here are some things that can help you hire a high-quality estate planning lawyer:
Start With Qualifications
Many counties and states have lawyer associations and councils to which an established attorney may belong. In some places, an attorney can be designated a “Super Lawyer,” which is a network of highly-rated lawyers. Also, check for membership in the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel.
Look For Specializations
Depending on your circumstances, you may benefit from an estate planning attorney with additional expertise. “If you have a degenerative or chronic health condition that’s likely to result in incapacity or require in-home care, an elder law attorney may be helpful,” Levin says. Many attorneys also specialize in Medicaid or estate taxes.
Ask For Recommendations
Word-of-mouth still goes a long way, particularly if an attorney is well-established in your area. If you’re searching online, websites such as SuperLawyers.com or Justia.com can highlight attorneys near you.
Request A Free Consult
Many lawyers offer free consultations to help clients get to know them. “Use your discretion to see if you click,” Levin says. “It’s important to establish good enough rapport with your attorney to discuss private family matters.”
How Do I Prepare for A Meeting with An Estate Planning Attorney?
Preparing for your first estate planning meeting can feel intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Consider the following steps to prepare for the estate planning process:
Step 1: Choose an Estate Planning Lawyer
Choosing the right estate planning lawyer may be the most difficult but important step of the process. It’s essential to work with a lawyer or law firm experienced in estate law, state and federal tax planning, and trust administration. Otherwise, your estate plan could have gaps or oversights. Ask friends, family, or colleagues for references. You might also ask your employer if they offer legal plan benefits, which could connect you with a network of experienced estate planning lawyers.
Step 2: Get Organized
Gather the most relevant documentation to provide a full picture of your assets. Although the list may vary from person to person. While gathering and organizing this paperwork may require some additional effort on your part, the final result will be a completely customized estate plan that provides for your loved ones and protects your assets.
Step 3: Talk to Your Family About Your Wishes
Having conversations with the people you love about your passing can feel uncomfortable. It’s a serious topic, and there’s a lot to discuss. However, the foundation of your estate plan starts with thinking through these difficult scenarios. But luckily, you don’t have to do it all at once. You can break the conversation up into smaller discussions about things like:
. Who will manage your money?
. Care for your children?
. Who will act as your executor (the person who carries out your requests)?
. Make critical healthcare decisions if you’re unable to?
However, if you decide to talk about your plans, take comfort in knowing that many people are having these discussions, so you’re not alone.
Step 4: Prepare Your Questions
You’ve organized your documents and talked with those close to you. Now, there’s just one step left: coming up with questions to ask your estate attorney.
Some questions to ask are:
. What assets should be part of my estate?
. What are the tax implications of my preferred estate plan, and how can I minimize my tax burden?
. How do you ensure my will is carried out correctly?
. How long does the estate planning process take to complete?
. Where should my documents be stored?
. How do you handle updating my estate plan, and do you conduct periodic reviews?
Frequently Asked Questions
How much does an estate planning attorney cost?
Prices can vary depending on your location and the law firm you choose, as well as whether you’re paying an hourly rate, a fixed per-document rate, or a comprehensive estate bundle. Here are a few estimated price ranges for popular services:
. Overall average hourly fee: $250 to $310.
. Average hourly fee for lawyers with less than 10 years in practice: $210 to $265.
. Average hourly fee for lawyers with more than 10 years in practice: $280 to $350.
. Typical flat-rate package fee: $1,000 to $2,000.
. 63% of estate planning lawyers offer a free 30- to 60-minute consultation.