Yes! The more appropriate question is rather, should you draft your own will and estate plan. The answer to that is much more complicated and depends on the complexity of your estate and your general sophistication and understanding of the legal documents. There is no law or rule requiring an attorney to draft your plan, but improperly organized estate and legal documents are one of the most common complications after a death in the family. Retaining an attorney is one simple way to avoid that risk.
Do you need a simple will or a more complex trust?
The first key to estate planning is recognizing whether a simple plan or a more complex tax and trust plan should be utilized. Oftentimes (but not always), those with foreign assets or beneficiaries and estates with greater than $2 million in value might benefit from comprehensive trust planning. Similarly, if your beneficiaries are disabled or have other complicating factors, a Revocable Living Trust might be appropriate. If not, a simple estate plan might be sufficient to meet your needs without breaking the bank.
What goes into a simple will?
The premise of estate planning is ensuring that – after some triggering event – your loved ones and the court have a plan of action. In the case of a simple last will and testament, in the event of your passing, you will answer the following basic questions:
1) Who will execute the will and acts as the personal representative?
2) Who will be the beneficiaries of my assets?
3) Who will become the guardian of my children if both parents have passed?
4) What will happen to my remains?
5) Do I have specific items that need to go to specific individuals?
6) Do I have any other requests for how my estate should be managed after I die?
Once these questions are answered, your attorney can draft up the documents to suit your needs. The will is then signed, witnessed by two independent individuals, and notarized. This document can be registered with the court, but most often is just kept in a safe place where your family can find it at your home or elsewhere.
Do I need a Power of Attorney?
A Power of Attorney is most of the most effective estate planning tools available. In essence, you are assigning one or more people to act as your legal decision-maker in the event you become incapacitated or are no longer able to manage your affairs. Most often, these are split into two separate documents: financial/property and healthcare. While you can make these documents as specific or general as you like, the main key for most people is to ensure that these documents appoint your chosen representative and grants them broad authority to run your life and sign on your behalf.
Are Living Wills / Advanced Healthcare Directives effective?
Horror stories are less prevalent than they used to be when discussing the fate of loved ones stuck in a coma or other persistent vegetative state. That is mostly thanks to the wide adoption of estate planning. These living wills state in many scenarios that – in the event you are in a persistent vegetative state and on life support – that you will be removed from life support and allowed to pass naturally if physicians agree that nothing else can be done to restore you to life. This is a very personal decision that allows you to choose now – instead of forcing the decision on your family during this difficult time.
Should you hire an attorney?
Ultimately, this decision is up to you. For small estates where the drafter is both competent and substantially understands the requirements of estate planning, it is possible to draft your own documents. Many people choose to retain counsel to avoid risk while expediting the process. The experienced attorneys at the law office of Magnuson Lowell, PS are well versed in estate planning. Feel free to call today for a free case evaluation.