Five smart strategies in working with an estate planning attorney

by the Editor, SeniorInsider | May 31, 2011

Why You Need an Estate Planning Attorney

In an ideal world, with an ideal family, you would never need the services of an estate planning attorney. In that ideal world there would be no conflicts, feuds or hard feelings regarding your wishes in leaving your assets to the people you choose. Family harmony can often boil down to assets and heirlooms, and in the interest of avoiding this, an estate planning attorney could be your best choice.

It’s very likely that as we get older we approach estate planning from a somewhat different perspective than we did when we were younger, and perhaps had minor children at home to consider. Seniors can potentially be dealing with three or more generations when they engage an estate planning attorney to help them map out their future wishes. In today’s society there are generally more “things” thrown into the estate planning mix than in days past, including second marriages, blended families, adult children with numerous children of their own as opposed to adult children with no children, sibling arguments… the list is literally endless.

These things all need to be taken into consideration when you meet with your estate planning attorney. The bottom line is that while you want to leave a legacy to loved ones (while maintaining family peace and harmony) you also want to ensure you and your spouse are financially provided for during you later years. Your estate planning attorney can help you find creative and solid ways to accomplish all these things, while also ensuring your heirs can avoid probate lawyers down the line.

Top Five Tips from an Estate Planning Attorney

  1. Discuss your wishes with your family. Senior parents should almost always reveal their intentions regarding their estate to their children, and, depending on their ages, their grandchildren as well. The goal is to set up a meeting in which estate plans are discussed; often this talk is avoided until there is a health-care crisis, and children often hesitate to bring the subject up because of a fear of appearing greedy or intrusive. Unexpected gifts can turn into family arguments which go on for years—if everyone is aware, right up front, of your wishes and plans, they have time to adapt before you are gone.

  2. Distribution of personal items and heirlooms. Quite often sibling tiffs arise over the relatively “small stuff” rather than property and money. Often, seniors are totally unaware of how much certain family items could mean to their children, and how full of sentimental value a particular item may be. It’s important to have an open family discussion in order to determine who feels the most strongly about what. If more than one child wants the same item, you will have to devise a fair system of choosing. If it becomes impossible to determine who should have a specific sentimental item, then the heirloom could be sold or auctioned and the proceeds divided among those who wanted it. Most all of us want to treat our children fairly and equally, unfortunately there are many variables in life which could make that impossible.

  3. Consider these specific items in your estate planning: Don’t forget the $12,000 annual gift tax exclusion when determining how to split your estate. Consider a chils’s or grandchild’s irrevocable education trust which can be used for education. Talk to your estate planning attorney about a family limited partnership which can provide asset protection for partnership property, provide protection from creditors from the limited partners, enable you to bestow gifts upon children who are in management control, and ultimately reduce the transfer tax value of your property. Make sure your estate planning attorney helps you set up a health care power of attorney, an irrevocable life insurance trust, a revocable living trust and a property power of attorney which will allow your agent to manage your assets should you become incapacitated.

  4. Reduce your tax liability. Consider converting your taxable retirement account to a tax-free Roth IRA, because beginning this year there is no longer an income limit. The gift tax exclusion is still in place, with a limit of $12,000.

  5. Make sure you keep all beneficiary forms updated. If part of your estate planning includes having POD or TOD beneficiaries named on your bank accounts and retirement accounts, you must be vigilant in keeping these forms updated. Many things change throughout the years, and you don’t want to accidentally end up leaving your money and retirement to someone you did not intend to.

An estate planning attorney will help you set up the many things necessary to ensure your estate—and your own future—is secure and solid while offering invaluable advice for seniors.



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