When you decide you need a Will, should you hire an estate planning attorney? What does an estate planning attorney do that you can’t do yourself? What does an estate planning attorney do that the attorney you use for your business or the attorney that did your divorce can’t do?
You certainly can save money by using forms found on the internet or a do-it-yourself book. Or one of my favorite ideas is to go to the local office supply store where you can buy forms torn off a tablet.
This won’t seem like such savings when, after you die, your estate plan doesn’t work like you wanted.
For example, many people do their own Wills, not understanding that the Will does not avoid probate and that their estate will have to go through the probate process. Probate is the court administration of your estate. Probate costs between 2-4% of your gross assets. So you may have saved hundreds of dollars doing your Will yourself but at a cost of thousands of dollars when the estate goes through probate.
What about hiring an attorney that isn’t an estate planning attorney? Many attorneys will prepare Wills and powers of attorney for you. What’s wrong with using them?
This is just like many things in life – you get what you pay for. What does your business lawyer or divorce lawyer know about estate planning? That is a good question to ask them before they prepare your Will or any other estate planning documents.
Estate planning attorneys are doing much more than filling out forms for you. They are, first of all, going to help you decide what estate planning documents you need. Is a Will what you need or do you need a Trust? Do you want to avoid probate? What about Federal estate taxes or Iowa inheritance taxes?
And there are a lot more issues to discuss. For example, you may have one or more of the following: blended family, own a business, own real estate in more than one state, have a disabled family member, have minor children, have no children, have substantial assets in 401(k)s or IRAs, be recently divorced, have an estate that is subject to federal estate taxes or state inheritance taxes.
Estate planning is a lot more complex than many people realize. Not hiring an attorney that is experienced in estate planning will affect how much your beneficiaries will inherit and how easy or complex the process will be. The ultimate goal of estate planning is to reduce death taxes, court costs and legal fees while maximizing estate assets.