The Fundamentals of Estate Planning and How an Attorney Can Help 

The Fundamentals of Estate Planning and How an Attorney Can Help 

by | Apr 17, 2022 | Estate Planning & Probate |

An elderly couple speaking with their estate planning lawyer

You spend your life working to build something that is long-lasting and impactful. Yet, life is finite, and as time goes on, the thought about what you will leave behind begins to creep in. What you build throughout your life can carry on and be part of your legacy. 

There are many ways to leave a lasting and meaningful legacy. Whether it’s leaving part of your estate to your family or kids or donating it to causes you care about, the fruits of your labor can continue representing your values and your vision for the future.

When thinking about the future, there are several factors to consider. Estate planning is not black and white. It is a personal and complicated process. 

Let’s look at the basics and how an attorney can help. 

Estate Planning Basics & How to Get Started 

According to some statistics, about 50-60% of Americans don’t have a will. Gallup reports that about 56% of Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 have a will and about 68% of those 65 and older.  During the past two years, as a pandemic swept through the world, the percentage of people that drafted out a will increase. 

The ebbs and flows of the economy and world events always keep future financial planning on its toes. From retirement to medical emergencies, ensuring the financial stability of your family’s future takes consideration over time. What many people don’t account for, however, is the difficulty of dealing with probate matters without the right legal counsel or established documents. 

That’s where your attorney comes in. First, you want to consider a few things before you file. 

The Practical Goals of Estate Planning

While most folks recognize that having a plan for after they’re gone might be necessary, the best and most effective way to do that is not always clear-cut. Estate planning is all about designating how your assets will be divided in your absence. 

This can be more complicated than it sounds depending on how many beneficiaries you have, how you want your money split and the amount and types of assets you own. At the same time, you want to ensure that your beneficiaries receive the assets with the least amount of tax penalties.

Paving the Way for the Right Estate Plan 

So where do you begin? Estate planning begins with a little soul searching, a little research, and the right attorney. Let’s look at the early stages. 

Consideration #1: Estate planning is a process

The first consideration to remember is that estate planning is a process. Because it is meant to provide a comprehensive plan for a variety of goals, it’s not a one-done deal. It can develop over time and change over time. It responds to the markets, economic conditions, and your changing personal circumstances. 

Consideration #2: Establish and communicate your goals clearly 

Priorities change over time, and this will reflect on people’s ideal estate plan. So depending on where you are in life, how you envision your future, and the size or complexity of your assets, your estate plan will incorporate a variety of aspects and considerations. So, there needs to be a guiding principle that is governed by your stated goals and objectives. 

Consideration #3: Assess where you are

Once you have articulated and defined your goals, you want a comprehensive evaluation of all your assets. This evaluation should include everything you own or anything you might have an interest in such as investments, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, retirement accounts, homes, properties, as well as other assets such as life insurance policies, annuities, and more. 

Consideration #4: Stay on top of it and keep communication open  

Just because you filed a document five or ten years ago, doesn’t always mean you’re all set. As mentioned above, circumstances change and so do priorities. At the same time, changing regulations or laws—such as taxes— can impact your estate. It’s good to maintain communication with your estate planning lawyer and keep things current as your priorities or circumstances change. 

Different Estate Planning Directives to Consider 

An estate plan also involves several kinds of legal directives that create legal protections and designate powers over your estate to certain people. They vary in structure and degrees. For example:

  • A trust. These are legal contracts that can be beneficial for some people in reducing estate taxes and establishing beneficiaries. A trustee or group of trustees can be put in charge of managing all of the assets in the trust. There are different types of trust —such as revocable and irrevocable — that are set up and structured differently. 
  • Financial power of attorney. This directive is all about naming someone that can handle your financial decisions when you pass or if you become medically unable to do so. The designated person can act and make decisions on your behalf. 
  • A limited power of attorney. Some people might be hesitant to name one person to hold absolute power in the handling of their finances. A limited power of attorney gives someone limited powers but allows them to handle some of the important business surrounding your assets. 
  • A medical power of attorney. This is also referred to as the living will and it lays out a plan for how you wish to receive medical care if you become unable to make the decisions yourself. You can give someone you trust medical power of attorney. 

How An Attorney Secures Your Estate Wishes 

An attorney assists with drafting the necessary documents to legally protect the assets of their clients and ensure their wishes are carried out. Setting up these legal directives requires an understanding of probate law and ensuring accuracy to avoid setbacks or delays.  An attorney:

  • Guides you through the estate planning process
  • Drafts necessary legal documents in compliance with laws
  • Uses law expertise to ensure client’s assets are better protected
  • Understands probate law, administration, trust regulations, asset protection, Medicaid laws, and other necessary rules
  • Helps with the probate process and any dealings with the probate court

Establish Your Legacy with the Right Estate Plan 

Working with an attorney helps you lay out your estate plan and handle the administrative and legal components. An attorney guides you through the process of establishing a plan and submitting the right legal documentation. 

What we mentioned above is just scratching the surface of how to approach the right plan. There are plenty of options for how to spread and structure your assets when you are gone. People will often go to great lengths to ensure that their favorite charities and causes are recipients of some of their monies. All of this can be secured legally by working with the right attorney. 

Are you ready to begin planning for the future? At Surratt and Thompson, PLLC, our legal team is ready to help you make the right choices today. Call us today.