In California, most people seem to understand the benefits of proper estate planning. However, I often hear people who do not understand the value of estate planners. Outfits such as LegalZoom or Legal Document Services offer cheap alternatives to meeting with a competent attorney in the area. Unfortunately, much of the document preparation is left to the individual planner, typists, or others similarly untrained in this area of the law. Doing so can be extremely detrimental to you, your family, and the value of your estate.
Each document requires certain formalities in order to be valid. The formalities are essential because, at the time the document is needed, you will be either incapacitated or deceased. It is extremely difficult at that time to determine your intent, level of capacity, and other important factors. For that reason, Wills are witnessed by individuals who attest that you are competent to understand the nature of the document, for example. Fulfilling the formal requirements of creating the document is necessary to ensuring that it is even useful.
Useful, valid documents are not always enough to put your wishes into effect. Even with relatively small estates, problems may arise in administration of an estate or trust, or while using a Power of Attorney or Advance Healthcare Directive. Depending on your goals and needs, certain documents may be more helpful to you than others, and certain clauses may be necessary to effectively use the documents. For example, by adding special clauses to a basic trust, the Trustee will have more flexibility to deal with your assets, like your home, effectively in order to qualify you for Medi-Cal (a QMap Trust) or VA Aid & Attendance Non Service Connected Disability beneifts (a QVap Trust) benefits. Without proper planning for benefits, you could be faced with increased medical cost liability or lose important tax benefits.
Similarly, clear drafting can avoid later disputes over your intentions, particularly when family rivalries are present or other special considerations. Through an open conversation with your attorney, you can decide how best to address such potential issues, but there is no one-size fits all solution! In some families, it is advantageous to have multiple trustees, while in others it is best to only have one. In still other situations, it may be most beneficial to appoint a professional fiduciary or financial institution. Determining when or whether to make distributions is another sensitive decision, particularly if you want to leave assets to an individual with special needs or ensure that there is enough remaining inheritance for your grandchildren. Sloppy drafting could even result in accidentally disinheriting the heirs of someone who predeceases you! The time and expense of litigation over these matters can quickly exhaust large amounts of trust or estate assets.
By working effectively with an attorney now, the cost savings can be astronomical. You can make sure that your estate plan is done correctly and that it accurately reflects your goals. Alternatively, if you shortchange your planning now, it may be too late before anyone realizes the problems in your documents. In other words, if you get the trust for $1500 less and it does not work, just how much money have you really saved!
Estate Planning: The Price of Organization, Rewards, Gifts, and Wondrous Tax Things… FREE REPORT: This complimentary report, focused on Estate Planning, is comprised of many of Mr. Miller’s articles from his long running column for the largest regional newspaper in San Diego County. This report will guide you through the questions surrounding getting your estate planning in order.