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  • Writer's pictureLindsay Spiller

Ten FAQs about Estate Planning: How an Estate Planning Lawyer Can Help

Updated: Dec 31


A blackboard describing the parts of an estate plan

Estate planning is organizing your assets and determining how they will be distributed upon your death. It may seem daunting, but ensuring that your wishes are honored and your loved ones are taken care of is essential. This blog post will address some of the most frequently asked questions about estate planning and explain how an estate planning lawyer can help guide you.


1. What is estate planning?


Estate planning involves deciding how your assets will be managed and distributed after your death. This includes creating a will, establishing trusts, and designating beneficiaries for life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and other assets. Estate planning can also involve planning for incapacities, such as creating a power of attorney and a living will.


2. Why is estate planning important?


Estate planning is crucial for several reasons:

  • It allows you to control how your assets are distributed upon death, ensuring your wishes are fulfilled.

  • It can help minimize estate taxes and other expenses, leaving more of your assets for your loved ones.

  • It can care for minor children or other dependents who rely on you for support.

  • It helps avoid the time-consuming and expensive probate process, which can burden your loved ones.

3. When should I start estate planning?


It's never too early to start estate planning. Even if you don't have significant assets or children, it's essential to have a plan in place in case of your death or incapacity. Updating your estate plan is crucial as your life circumstances change, such as getting married, having children, or acquiring more assets.


4. What are the critical elements of an estate plan?


A comprehensive estate plan typically includes the following:

  • A will: A legal document outlining how your assets will be distributed upon your death and who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes.

  • Trusts: Legal arrangements that allow you to transfer assets to a trustee, who manages them to benefit one or more beneficiaries. Trusts can be used for various purposes, such as minimizing taxes, providing for minor children, or protecting assets from creditors.

  • Beneficiary designations: Naming beneficiaries for assets like life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and other investments. These designations determine who will receive the assets upon your death outside of the probate process.

  • A durable power of attorney is a legal document appointing an agent to manage your financial affairs if you cannot.

  • A living will and healthcare power of attorney: Documents specifying your healthcare preferences and appointing someone to make medical decisions if you become incapacitated.

5. What is probate?


Probate is the legal process by which a deceased person's assets are distributed according to their will or, if they don't have a will, according to state law. Probate can cause delays, be expensive, and is public, so many people choose to avoid it through estate planning strategies like establishing trusts or naming beneficiaries for certain assets.


6. What is the role of an estate planning lawyer?


An estate planning lawyer can help you create a comprehensive estate plan tailored to your unique circumstances and goals. They can advise you on the best strategies for minimizing estate taxes, avoiding probate, and ensuring your assets are distributed according to your wishes. They can also help you draft and review essential estate planning documents, such as your will, trusts, and power of attorney.


7. How can an estate planning lawyer help me avoid probate?


An estate planning lawyer can help you create a plan that avoids probate by:

  • Establishing trusts: Trusts allow assets to be transferred to a trustee who manages them to benefit one or more beneficiaries. Assets in a trust bypass the probate process and can be distributed directly to beneficiaries, often more quickly and with fewer expenses.

  • Naming beneficiaries for certain assets: By designating beneficiaries for assets like life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and other investments, these assets can pass directly to your chosen beneficiaries outside of probate.

  • Utilizing joint ownership with rights of survivorship: Holding assets like real estate, bank accounts, or investments jointly with another person can allow those assets to pass directly to the surviving owner upon your death, avoiding probate.

  • Creating a transfer-on-death (TOD) or payable-on-death (POD) account: Certain assets, like bank accounts or securities, can be registered with a TOD or POD designation. This allows the assets to be transferred directly to the named beneficiaries upon your death, bypassing the probate process.

8. How can an estate planning lawyer help me minimize estate taxes?


An estate planning lawyer can help you minimize estate taxes by:

  • Utilizing the federal estate tax exemption: In 2021, the federal estate tax exemption was $11.7 million per person, meaning that estates worth less than this amount are not subject to federal estate tax. An estate planning lawyer can help you understand how this exemption applies to your estate and ensure your assets are structured to take full advantage of it.

  • Implementing gift strategies: By making annual tax-free gifts to your loved ones, you can reduce the value of your estate, potentially minimizing estate taxes. An estate planning lawyer can advise you on your situation's most effective gifting strategies.

  • Establishing trusts: Certain types, such as irrevocable life insurance trusts (ILITs) or charitable remainder trusts (CRTs), can help minimize estate taxes by removing assets from your taxable estate.

  • Planning for state estate taxes: Some states impose their estate taxes, which may have different exemption amounts and rates than the federal estate tax. An estate planning lawyer can help you navigate your state's estate tax laws and plan accordingly.

9. How often should I review and update my estate plan?


It's essential to review and update your estate plan regularly, especially when you experience significant life events such as:

  • Marriage, divorce, or the death of a spouse

  • The birth or adoption of a child

  • Changes in your financial situation, such as receiving an inheritance or selling a business

  • Changes in your health or the health of your spouse or dependents

  • Changes in estate tax laws or other relevant legislation

A good rule of thumb is to review your estate plan at least every three to five years or as your life circumstances change.


10. How much does an estate plan cost?


The cost of an estate plan can vary widely depending on several factors, including the complexity of your financial situation, the specific estate planning tools you need, and the rates charged by the estate planning lawyer or professional you choose to work with. Here's a general breakdown of the potential costs associated with creating an estate plan:

  • Basic estate plan: For a simple estate plan that includes a will, durable power of attorney, and healthcare documents (such as a living will and healthcare power of attorney), the cost can range from $500 to $1,500 or more. This range depends on whether you create the documents using an online service or work with an attorney to prepare them for you.

  • An estate plan with trusts: If your estate plan involves establishing one or more trusts, the cost will typically be higher, ranging from $1,500 to $5,000 or more. The price will depend on the complexity of the trust (s) and the attorney's fees.

  • Hourly rates: Some estate planning lawyers charge an hourly rate for their services, ranging from $250 to $500 or more per hour, depending on their experience level and the region where they practice.

  • Flat fees: Other estate planning lawyers may charge a flat fee for a comprehensive estate plan, which can range from $1,000 to $5,000 or more, depending on the complexity of the plan and the attorney's ratesRemembernd that these figures are general estimates and that the cost of an estate plan can vary widely based on your specific circumstances. It's essential to discuss fees and costs upfront with the estate planning lawyer or professional you choose to work with to ensure that you understand the scope of their services and the associated expenses.


Conclusion


Estate planning is an essential process that ensures your wishes are carried out and your loved ones are provided for after your death. By addressing these frequently asked questions and working with an experienced estate planning lawyer, you can create a comprehensive estate plan that reflects your unique needs and goals.



Spiller Law is an advisor to startup businesses, entertainment and media companies, and artists. Feel free to schedule a free consultation.



 

Spiller Law is a San Francisco business, entertainment, and estate planning law firm. We serve clients in the San Francisco Bay Area, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, and California. Feel free to arrange a free consultation using the Schedule Appointment link on our website. For other questions, feel free to call our offices at 415-991-7298.

 

The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers are advised to consult with their legal counsel for specific advice.

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