24 Oct 7 Reasons Why Someone Would Need an Attorney Like Me
Recently, I got an opportunity to speak at the Big Red Referral Group’s lunch. This is a great group of professionals with different backgrounds, and I was the only estate planning attorney in the room. Because this was during the National Estate Planning Awareness Week, I decided to make my presentation really broad, that is, offer an introduction to estate planning. Most people know what estate planning is, but, unless they do estate planning for a living, they may only be aware of the area of estate planning that is relevant to their life. That may be naming a guardian for their new child, going through probate when their spouse passes away, preparing a will for their children, depending on where they are in life. So I decided to paint a more complete picture of estate planning by discussing seven common reasons why people hire someone like me.
Recent Parents or Recently Divorced
Going through someone’s life, the most common early-stage reason to get an estate planner is to prepare a will when a couple has a child. They generally don’t have a will when they first get married. Then when they have a child, they name a guardian for the child in the will, most commonly. That’s the first step.
Then the next one is – and I don’t mean to pair these two – is divorce, which is generally the next life event that happens, if it happens. At that point, it is necessary to adjust the estate plan. The kids might remain the ultimate beneficiaries, but beneficiary forms if there’s no trust. A lot of times you name your life partner or your spouse as a personal representative, so that will likely need to change.
To stay in control of your assets after you are unable to make decisions
The next reason to hire an estate planner as you go through life is to stay in control of your assets if you’re not able to make your own decisions, whether you’re still alive and just unable to make your own decisions or you passed away and your assets are being transferred to someone who maybe doesn’t have the mental capacity to handle it or they’re minors.
That’s a stage when you need a trust. Really, all a trust document is a written description of how you want your money spent and when you want it spent if you’re not there.
Privacy is important to you
The next most common reason is privacy. A will is a public document. When someone passes away you file an inventory, which is literally a list of everything that someone owns. When you have a trust, it’s a little easier to hide what you actually own. In Nebraska, there is a state-level tax, which takes away some of the privacy, but, for the most part, you can keep the specifics of what you own hidden if it’s planned in advanced. This does not necessarily mean the dollar amount of what you have, but the specifics of what makes up that dollar amount.
To inventory or organize your assets
A big thing that people are relieved about after I set up an estate plan for them is not needing to organize their assets any more. That organizational aspect alone is very valuable: Everything is organized. It’s in one spot. They know where everything is. They know if they’re missing something. A lot of times, as strange as it sounds, people will forget about bank accounts or forget about money. One of the first documents I give potential and current clients is a laundry list of types of assets they might have. I’d ask them to go through it and find everything. It’s surprising how often people find a forgotten bank account or a savings account, which is perhaps the most commonly forgotten asset.
Need help with Medicaid planning
Medicaid planning is a fairly prominent area of estate planning now, so people often need help with that. It’s very common in my practice and deserves a separate discussion.
S Corporations, which is a tax classification for businesses, are not allowed to be held by an estate. Business owners often don’t realize that. Because a true S Corporation cannot be owned by an estate, it causes problems when the owner passes away. If the corporation is set up incorrectly, it causes some issues with how fast you either have to sell the business or try to change the business entity type. This is another very common scenario in my practice. Fortunately, with an LLC, this is not a problem.
Probate is a very complicated system. There’re probably 150 steps that you need to go through to actually complete a probate. I had two clients recently who needed help with closing an estate that has been open for several years. They tried to do it themselves, but they couldn’t figure out how to close the estate, which is a point where all of the taxes are calculated and you actually distribute property.
After they retained me, they were high-fiving in the hallway as they were leaving my office – literally! It was it was incredibly rewarding to see them so excited and relieved. That’s an example of the situation where probate sounds easy, but it is not. I love helping clients dealing with this issue.