Estate Planning

Estate Planning

So, you are interested in doing an estate plan. Any particular reason? For example, sometimes people come to us because they are going on a trip overseas and they want to make sure their children are taken care of in case of an accident. We also have clients who have recently inherited some money and frankly they are just not sure what to do with it. Are you worried about protecting what you have from creditors? Or, maybe you know you need to do a “Will” but just haven’t gotten around to doing it. Those are certainly all valid reasons and our goal here is to help walk you through the process and give you some useful information along the way.

Quick Links

What is estate planning?

Do I need a law firm to help with my estate plan?

What is the process for creating an estate plan?

What documents do I need?

First, what is Estate Planning?

Estate planning means different things to different people. However, for you to decide to actually pay someone to help you create an estate plan, there must be one truth. That truth is that you have people that you care about and you want them to be taken care of after you die. That part has to be true. If you are ok letting your friends and family sort out your affairs after you pass away, then chances are you do not need to do a thing. Just keep living your life and when you pass away, your friends and family can figure out what they need to do. And maybe everything will be fine. However, more than likely what will happen is your friends and family will need to open a probate; they may be scrambling to pay for debts or other debts you left them with; there may be minor children left in limbo that the court will now decide who is going to take care of them; and as a result of all of this, your friends and family may end up resenting you and each other in the process. Now, if you would like to try and avoid having your loved ones go through that, then doing an estate plan might be a good idea. (This may seem harsh but unfortunately, we see this all too often and we owe it to you to be upfront and honest).

At its heart, estate planning is protecting those you love after you pass away. Again, this could be as simple as making sure that your spouse, children, friends, etc., inherit your property and assets without going through probate or it could be that you want to leave money to various charities. Again, the specifics do not necessarily matter. What really matters is that there are things you want to occur and loved ones you want to protect after you die.

We say that Estate Planning is planning for the inevitable so that your loved ones are protected.

Second, do you need The Probate Law Firm to help you with your estate plan?

Well, we suppose that depends. The truth is that you could go to LegalZoom, Office Depot, or any number of places and get free or really cheap estate planning templates. If you are the type of person that wants a one-size-fits-all Will that you can get for $9.99, then we are probably not the firm for you. Yes, there is a ton of free information out there and frankly some of it is pretty good. Now, to be fair, not all documents are created equal and laws do change so there is no guarantee that what you are filling out will actually hold up after you die, but that is another story. (We do probate litigation, so we know this to be the truth).

Our value comes not just from preparing the documents. Again, for the most part, the documents are the documents. You could hire 10 different law firms and have them prepare your estate plan and if you were to line up the documents right next to each other, chances are they would be somewhat similar. Yes, some would be much better than others but probably all 10 would get the job done. And if all 10 get the job done, then why is there a difference?

If you are thinking about creating an estate plan than most likely you want to protect those you love after you pass away. But you may not even be entirely sure how you want to do that. You need someone in your corner who knows the right questions to ask to help you figure out what your goals are. And we are not just talking about questions like, “who do you want to leave your money to?” We are talking about real, heartfelt questions that get to the center of why you are trying to protect your loved one in the first place. What is important to you? What do you value? How would you feel if …? Why does that matter to you? We spend time with you to really learn about you so that we can come up with a plan that sets your mind at ease. Because, at the end of the day, estate planning is really about giving you peace of mind. In our experience, just having you sign a few documents and then sending you on your way will not give you the real peace of mind you are after. So, if you are looking to create a lasting relationship with a law firm that will be with you and your family for years to come, then you may want (and need) us!

Third – what is the process for creating an estate plan?

We believe in creating a long-term relationship with you. We do not want to just have you come sign some documents and that’s it. No, we want to be your advisors. We want to be on your Team and in your corner when you need us. This relationship begins with the first call.

Step 1: Call us at 305-456-3255 to schedule a free consultation with a member of our team. During this 60-minute phone call, we are going to get to know you a little bit and ask you some questions. We want to know what is on your mind and why you are considering creating, or updating, your estate plan. Is there a major event about to occur, such as the birth of a child, or did something just occur, such as a divorce? We encourage you to share with us as we sincerely want to know. We will discuss a little about your personal and financial situation but really, we will just listen. At the end of the call, we will digest everything you have shared with us and will reflect on a few options that may be available to you.

Step 2: Generally, we will send you an email with a proposal which outlines an estate plan that we believe would work best for you. We will also include our fees and costs. Often, our clients give us the green light and we move on to Step 3. Or, you may have additional questions. If that is the case, you can give us a call and we will schedule another free 60-minute phone call to answer any follow-up questions. Again, we want you to be comfortable and confident in moving forward.

Step 3: After you have signed our Agreement for Representation and paid the initial invoice, we will send you a comprehensive questionnaire to fill out. Yes, it is a bit long. However, in our experience this is the best way for us to gather all of the relevant information so that we can start putting the pieces together. Once we receive this back from you, we begin drafting your plan!

Step 4: We like to have at least one other follow-up call after the documents have been drafted. We just want to make sure that the plan we came up with is still what you want. This is really a confirmation call to ensure nothing has changed.

Step 5: You sign the documents! We recommend that you allow 2-hours to come-in to the office and review the documents and sign everything. We will go over the plan in detail and answer any remaining questions you might have. Then, we scan and save the documents and give you the originals for your record. 

Step 6: We keep in touch. Like we said earlier, just because the plan is finished, it does not mean you are on your own. We generally encourage annual, or at a minimum, bi-annual reviews just to make sure nothing needs to be updated. You could consider this like a check-up. We just want to make sure everything is fine.

Step 7: You consider us your trusted advisor. We will be proactive in calling you and making sure everything is ok, but we also encourage you to keep in contact with us. We want you to think of us for anything. Seriously, anything. We are on your Team!

Fourth – what documents might you need?

Please read the following descriptions with a few things in mind: this list does not include everything and not every document is needed for your estate plan. We highly recommend that you do not try and self-diagnose. Even if you are an attorney, it may not be the best idea to try and come up with your own plan without speaking to a professional who actually does this type of work. We always use the phrase: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. In today’s world, there is so much information out there that you could really teach yourself to do just about anything. However, unless you are trained professional who does this day in and day out, chances are, the trained professional knows more than you do. Even if you are a “do-it-yourself” type of person, which is great, part of the value of hiring a professional is that they can see some of the blind spots that you may not readily see. So, with that, here is a list of certain estate planning documents and a very brief description of each.

Last Will and Testament – document in which you specify who will receive your possessions and manage your affairs after you pass away.

Guardianship Provision for Minor Children – name who you would like to take care of your minor children in that even that you were to pass away.

Living Will – document that specifically states your end of life desires with regard to your health care.

Designation of Health Care Surrogate – allows you to appoint a surrogate and an alternate surrogate to make health care judgements on your behalf if you suffer a medical event where you are unable to communicate healthcare wishes to health care providers. 

Designation of Pre-Need Guardianship – document that allows you to select who you would like to take care of you if were ever unable to take care of yourself or were incapacitated.

HIPPA Authorization Form – document that allows an appointed person or party to share specific health information about you with another person or group, such as a hospital.

Donor Form – document that indicates your wish to donate, at death, all or part of your body.

Durable Power of Attorney – document that designates someone to act on your behalf, financially and legally, in the event that you can’t make decisions for yourself.

Beneficiary Designations – update existing accounts, such as a 401k, life insurance or bank account and name a beneficiary, which is the person you want to inherit the proceeds when you die.

List of Important Documents – create a comprehensive list of important documents, including where they are stored so that your loved ones are able to locate them when necessary.

Trust (Revocable and Irrevocable) – a Trust manages and protects assets that a person owns while they are living. Trusts may be used to avoid probate and to allow a person’s financial situation to be kept private after they pass away.

Lady-Bird Deed / Enhanced Life Estate Deed – a special type of deed that allows the owner of a property to continue control over the property until his or her death. Once the owner dies, the property is transferred automatically to the new owners without the need for probate.

If you are interested in learning more, please call The Probate Law Firm at 305-456-3255 for more information. We would love the opportunity to speak with you.

Talk to you soon!