Frequently Asked Questions: Estate Planning

I have an estate?

You certainly do! Your estate consists of whatever you own: your car, your home, your bank accounts, your personal belongings, your insurance policies. You probably own more than you think you do. 

Do I really need an estate plan?
Yes. Everyone needs an estate plan. Whether you're nearing retirement, just starting a business, or have young children, sitting down with an attorney helps you to protect what's important to you. Maybe you're worried about how to pay for health care as you get older. Maybe you'd like to ensure that your children will be provided for if something happens to you. Or maybe you want to set up care for your beloved pets. Estate planning is the solution.
 
This is especially true of health care planning documents. Everyone over 18 should have a  Health Care Power of Attorney (or Health Care Proxy), Living Will (a.k.a. Advance Directive), and HIPAA release. Many people do not realize that once children turn 18, their parents do not automatically have access to their health care records or financial information. It’s a great idea to get this taken care of before a child heads off to college.
What happens if I don’t have an estate plan?
The state has made one for you. 
 
Yes, you read that right. If you do not make your own will, your property will be distributed according to rules in your state’s intestacy statutes, which are essentially a will the state has made for you. These codes do not take into account your personal wishes and they do not reflect the growing complexity of modern families, many of which include children from multiple relationships and long-term committed relationships that have not been formalized with marriage.
 
Intestacy can also be more expensive and more time-consuming than administering an estate with a will.
What’s in an Estate Plan?

A basic modern estate plan consists of:

  • A Will, which directs the distribution of your assets after your death;
  • A Durable Power of Attorney, which appoints someone to manage your finances for you if you're not able to do so yourself;
  • A Power of Attorney for Health Care (also called a Health Care Proxy), which appoints someone to make your medical decisions for you if you can't do so yourself; and
  • A HIPAA Health Insurance Privacy Release Form, which allows you to authorize one or more people to have access to your medical records.

For some people, additional documents such as Trusts, Letters of Burial Instructions, and Nominations of Guardianship may be appropriate. Estate Plans may vary widely, since they depend on your goals and your wishes.

How does Estate Planning work?

At Posteri Legal, the estate planning process has three basic components. First, you will have an initial meeting during which we will discuss your goals and your concerns. Second, you will review the drafts of your estate planning documents. This allows you to ask any questions you have before signing your final documents, and may involve an additional meeting. Third, you will sign your documents at a signing conference during which we will discuss any final steps you need to take, such as updating your beneficiary designations.

Why do I need an attorney? I can do it myself online or with that kit I saw at the office superstore last week.

An attorney is best able to ensure that your wishes are honored. Just look at any of those do-it-yourself kits and read the disclosures in small print. Those kits do not offer you legal expertise and they don't even promise to work. No kit will replace an attorney's expertise. Furthermore, an attorney can work with your financial planner, your accountant, and your insurance agent to ensure that your finances are in line with your estate plan. You are not paying for a pile of paper- you are paying for the attorney’s knowledge and experience. You won’t find that in a kit.

What is a trust?

A trust allows one person (the trustee) to hold property for the benefit of another person (the beneficiary). It can be used for probate avoidance, asset protection, and tax planning. It is also commonly used to manage assets for minor children in the event that a parent dies.

How much will my estate plan cost?

Most estate plans are done on a flat fee basis. You will be given a quote at our initial meeting that includes all attorney fees, notary fees, and meetings. The flat fee also includes answers to all your questions via phone or email. For more information, see our Fees & Payment page.

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