How to Decide if You Need a Trust and Estates Attorney

Do it yourself wills and estate planning documents are available on the internet and in your local office supply store. However, before you decide to purchase these resources it is important that you understand whether your interests would be better served by hiring an attorney to draft the documents for you.
Factors to Consider

Before you make the decision about whether or not to hire an attorney, you should consider the following factors:
  • How large is your estate likely to be?  If your estate is likely to be worth one million dollars or more than it might be subject to federal estate tax. Currently, the gross value of the estate that is subject to federal estate tax varies depending on the year that you die. However, the tax rates are significant and range from 45%-55%.   Many people underestimate the value of their estate. An estate includes not only bank accounts but also all real estate, including a   home, personal property, including jewelry and other valuables, life insurance, 401ks, pensions and, other investments.  Many do it yourself estate packages and wills are not designed to help an individual legally avoid the estate tax. However, a qualified estate planning attorney can discuss different ways in which you can decrease your estate by setting up trusts, making annual gifts to family members or other individuals or making charitable contributions.
  •  Are you establishing any trusts?  A properly formed trust can allow your assets to pass to your beneficiaries without incurring the cost of going through probate or being subject to estate taxes. These benefits only apply to trusts that meet certain requirements and it is, therefore, important for an attorney experienced in trust and estates law to draft the documents.
  • Do you have any special family circumstances?Special family circumstances may make it important for you to consult an attorney. For example, if you have a child with special needs and you want to make sure that the child will benefit from your estate even though the child may not be able to manage the inherited money then you should consult an attorney. Likewise, if you have had multiple marriages or if you are looking to disinherit a child then you should seek the advice of counsel.
  • Do you understand the legal requirements for wills and can you comply with them?  Each state has its own requirements for the proper execution of wills. Some states allow holographic wills that are written in your own handwriting and that do not need to be witnessed. If you type your will, follow a do it yourself legal kit or have a friend draft the document for you then you will need to make sure the will is properly executed according to state law. 
  • How Comfortable Are You?  Finally, you should consider your own personal tolerance for mistakes. You will not be able to change things once you have passed away and your heirs will not be able to change things either. Therefore, if it is important for you to make sure that your estate is distributed according to your intended wishes then you should consult an attorney.
While not every will requires an attorney, you should carefully consider all of the factors described above when determining whether it is a good idea to hire an attorney for your own estate planning purposes.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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