Estate planning lawyers eat, sleep, and breathe estate planning and see pretty much every kind of situation unfold. Clearly, individuals who have taken the time to create a solid estate plan nearly always fare better than those who do not. Still, there are a whole lot of myths and misunderstandings floating around that stop people from making the choice to protect their futures with an estate planning lawyer’s assistance.
In an effort to help as many people as possible, it is incredibly important to tackle these myths head-on and to debunk those that just aren’t true.
T or F: Estate plans are just for those with lots of assets.
This is false. Many people end up unknowingly damaging their estates and hurting their heirs because they just don’t think they have “enough stuff” to justify an estate plan. This myth absolutely needs to be debunked! As long as you own something, there will be a legal process in order to determine what to do with it after you die. This process (probate) is not only long and drawn out, but it also costs money. That money comes from the estate itself, meaning that those precious few assets you wanted to pass on could actually end up being sold in order to pay for probate and taxes. Fortunately, working with an estate planning lawyer ahead of time allows you the opportunity to protect your assets using whatever tools are appropriate for your situation.
T or F: You don’t need an estate plan as long as your family knows your wishes.
This is false. There are a couple of problems that estate planning lawyers encounter with this line of thinking. First, and probably most importantly, is that just because you and/or your family wants things to happen in a certain way, there’s no guarantee they will. Instead of your loved ones following your wishes, they will be forced to follow the laws of the state—even if these go completely against what you wanted. Additionally, everyone experiences grief differently, and even though your child or other loved one knows your preferences, he or she may find ways to subvert them for their own gain. The best way to avoid both of these kinds of drama is to work with an estate planning lawyer who knows how to ensure that things go the way you want as a matter of law.
T or F: Trust funds are for more than passing on money.
This is true. While we may have certain ideas about trust funds as a result of watching too many movies, many people aren’t clear on what they can really do. For example, your estate planning lawyer can help you set up a trust in order to limit the taxes your estate (and heirs) will have to pay later. They also provide you with a big say in how your heirs are able to use the money—do you want them to have free reign, to pay for an education, or to give the money to charity? These are just some of the ways trusts are often used.
Even if you don’t have a ton of assets, a skilled estate planning lawyer can help you create a roadmap that will be followed by both the courts and those you’ve left behind. From avoiding probate and excessive taxes to ensuring that your grandkids go to college, working with an estate planning lawyer is the first step in protecting what you hold dear.