You may believe that estate planning is something you don’t have to worry about until you’re retirement age or older, but you’re wrong. Creating a plan with an estate planning attorney is not something you should put off or that you can do easily by yourself.

Nonetheless, the need for professional, experienced legal assistance from probate and estate administration lawyers for estate planning doesn’t mean it’s a scary process either.

As with anything, the more knowledge you have, the better prepared you are and the greater confidence you can have that you’ve taken care of your family for the future.

Estate planning explained

The estate planning basics involve a specific set of legal documents detailing instructions for your care if you become unable to advocate for yourself and explaining how you want your assets divided following your death.

These estate planning forms can include a living will, will, health care proxy, trust, funeral instructions and guardianship instructions for children and/or pets. Estate planning details the people in your life that you want to take an active role in your affairs and what you want to happen if you become too ill or die and can’t speak for yourself.

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It can seem like a morbid affair planning your estate and that’s why many people wait too long, but it’s actually quite empowering once you know that you’re family won’t be left with a mess of confusing details after you pass on.

When to start planning

You may think that because you’re not “rich” you don’t need to create an estate plan, but your estate is anything you own including life insurance and retirement accounts from your place of employment. Anyone can benefit from an estate planning attorney, whether they’re single, married, divorced, have a life partner, an only child, one of many children and have children themselves. Although most 18-year-olds don’t think about estate planning, anyone that age or older can create an estate plan.

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Probate and family law judges want to know the incapacitated person’s wishes and whom they chose to make important decisions via a medical directive. This helps avoid conflict and confusion for everyone involved.   Any person of any age can suffer an accident that renders them incapable of paying bills, advocating for themselves or making decisions regarding DNR orders and power of attorney.

Changes as you age

When you’re young and single you don’t have the same concerns as you will in a few years’ time when you might marry, buy a home and have children. Adults with young children can accumulate various assets such as their home, savings accounts, vacation or rental property, vehicles, etc. and having an estate plan sets out what happens to the children and their inheritance should you die. With estate planning, you dictate guardians for your children and who controls their inheritance until they reach a certain age. This helps avoid arguments over custody in family court and prevents irresponsible younger adults from wasting inheritance.

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As your children grow into adults, the needs of your estate plan change as you now need to think about paying for medical care if you become ill.  Setting up a estate planning trusts ensures that your assets go toward your care and avoids exploitation of your money by relatives.

Starting your estate plan

To begin estate planning, you need to utilize reputable probate and estate administration lawyers. If you have a lawyer that you already use and trust and they do estate planning, then set up a consultation with them to begin the process. If you haven’t needed a lawyer yet and want to find a qualified one, it’s vital that you do your research. Ask co-workers, friends, and family for suggestions and recommendations and review sites such as American College of Trust & Estate Counsel (actec.org) and the National Association of Estate Planners and Counsels (naepc.org)  for names of an estate planning attorney in your area.

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Once you’ve found names of estate planners seek references and consult with several of them until you find one you’re comfortable with. Many estate lawyers provide an initial consultation for no charge and you can then ask how they will bill you and what work they will do for you. It’s important that your estate planning attorney understands your situation so they know how to handle your affairs when the time comes. Prior to visiting an estate planner, create a sheet listing all of your assets, liabilities, accounts and passwords to ease the process.

Bottom line. 

Estate plans are not DIY endeavors

Although you can write out a general estate plan, this isn’t a good plan because there are state-specific rules that apply to estate planning. Using a website for your estate plan is unwise too as they’re not customized to your specific requirements and can leave out important details. Improper estate planning can lead to court litigation and disputes.

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