Did you know that you have an estate? In fact, everyone has one. By definition, an estate is everything that you own, which includes all property, vehicles, jewelry, stocks, and money. While simple in theory, what happens upon your death? Who will receive your assets? This is where an estate plan comes in. Encompassing legal documents that provide instructions, an estate plan allows you to provide for your family’s future upon your death.
This planning process can be an overwhelming, emotional, and stressful one. While it’s best to meet with an estate planning attorney in San Diego to ensure all questions are adequately addressed and sound decisions are made surrounding your plan, this guide highlights what an estate planning attorney can do for you.
What is an Estate Planning Lawyer?
An estate planning attorney, also referred to as an estate law attorney or probate attorney, helps in the estate planning process by putting your wishes for incapacity and death into writing. This attorney will know the correct documents to use and will present options to ensure your goals are correctly carried out.
Additionally, an estate law attorney will have knowledge of state and federal laws that could affect how your estate is inventoried, valued, dispersed, and taxed upon your death and will properly educate you about the probate process should that arise.
What Does an Estate Planning Attorney do?
Essential job duties of estate law attorneys include:
- Creating and implementing of legal documents such as wills and trusts;
- Designating beneficiaries and establishing durable power of attorney;
- Meeting with relatives and close friends of those involved with an estate;
- Organizing and arranging the transfer of assets to the rightful heirs and beneficiaries;
- Developing solutions to reduce taxes or fees imposed upon an estate (this requires tax knowledge);
- Establishing restrictions on an estate (only when necessary) to ensure deceased wishes are properly carried out;
- Handling of retirement plans, life insurance policies, and charitable contributions.
In order to become an estate attorney, one must graduate from law school, which earns them their Juris Doctor degree, then they must pass an ethics exam and a state bar exam. California offers one of the most challenging state bar exams in the country. Estate planning attorneys then learn to practice through on-the-job training, mentors, and continuing education classes.
7 Things an Estate Planning Lawyer Can do for You
In addition to helping you to avoid the long and costly probate process and reducing tax liabilities, a California estate planning attorney can do the following:
Create a Will and Identify the Beneficiaries
While you can find a Will template online, it probably doesn’t actually fit your needs. Rarely do people’s lives, families, and assets fit into a standard template. There is always the option of making a holographic (handwritten) will, but there are very specific rules for getting that right and they often lead to probate litigation.
Meeting with a knowledgeable California estate planning attorney can help make this process easier. This is actually the only way to ensure your Will outlines everything you need while also helping to reduce the chance to go to court.
Additionally, estate planning attorneys are great resources to use when allocating assets to beneficiaries. They are a neutral third-party and will truly listen to your needs and offer advice when needed.
Help to Avoid the Long and Costly Probate Process
Probate is the court process for transferring a deceased’s estate to the named heirs and beneficiaries. Going through probate is very expensive, quite lengthy (the entire process can take up to two years), and is extremely public. Anyone who is willing to go to the courthouse can obtain copies of the Will and any legal documents associated with it.
Luckily, probate isn’t always necessary even if you don’t have a trust. If all of your assets are beneficiary designated, your estate can avoid probate. Additionally, if your estate consists of less than $50,000 of real property and less than $150,000 of total property, a Small Estate Affidavit can be used to transfer assets from your estate to your legal heirs. Unfortunately, some entities will refuse to accept the Affidavit forcing your heirs to either open probate or engage in litigation with the entity (which rarely makes sense with an estate of this size).
Hiring a probate attorney can help to avoid probate entirely by ensuring that all your assets are designated correctly. Should your loved ones have to enter in the probate process, this attorney can prepare them and help them in navigating the legal system.
Have Thorough Knowledge of the State and Federal Laws
Probate laws are constantly updated, and chances are if you’re planning your own estate you might miss a new law that could negatively impact your estate plan. A good estate planning attorney will be up-to-date on the California Probate Code and know if or how changes will affect you and your estate plan.
Ensure Your Health Wishes are Carried out by Someone You Trust
An estate planning attorney can help advise on who the best person will be to carry out your health wishes. Oftentimes, we choose a family member when emotionally that role might be better suited to a close friend who’s a bit more removed from the situation. An attorney can act as a third-party to guide you on who might be best to serve in this role.
Protect Your Family and Your Legacy for the Future
A well-rounded estate plan will include elements such as your will, list of beneficiaries, durable power of attorney (should you become incapacitated), advance medical directive, life insurance, and a trust. This entire plan will ensure that your loved ones won’t have to jump through hoops upon your death. Meeting with a knowledge, good estate planning attorney can guarantee that these legal documents have all the details laid out properly.
Meeting with an estate attorney in San Diego can ensure that your legacy is carried on for decades to come by crafting the correct documents to carry out your final wishes, funeral arrangements, and family traditions and values.
Update and Modify the Estate Plan Whenever is Necessary
Estate plans can change over time. Why? Whether it’s a divorce, birth of a child, marriage, change in assets, health, or even an out of state move – whatever the situation might be, you should plan to update your estate plan throughout your life.
Usually in these scenarios, amending your estate plan is not top of mind, especially if you are busy with a new baby or a cross-country move. Once life slows down a bit, you can reach out to a good estate planning attorney and they can update your estate planning documents accordingly.
What is the Cost of an Estate Planning Attorney
This answer depends as there are many different factors to consider including the experience of the attorney, where they are located, and the complexity of work involved. Attorneys usually set up estate planning fees in two different ways:
- Hourly: This rate will depend upon the location, experience, and size of the law firm.
- Flat: This is a one-time fee that the attorney will charge for all estate planning services. Since an attorney will know the average time it will take to prepare your documents, they can charge a flat rate so you know exactly what to expect.
How do the Estate Planning Attorneys Fees Work
Hourly fees are billed in increments of six minutes or one-tenth of an hour.
A flat fee structure is more relaxed and comfortable as you won’t have to worry about how much one phone call will cost. If your attorney does pay by flat fee make sure that you understand you might have to pay more for court filing, record documenting, or other fees.
How to Choose the Best Estate Planning Attorney in San Diego or Other Places in California
In choosing this attorney, it’s crucial that you find one that is knowledgeable. Attorneys that have represented clients in trust litigation tend to draft better estate plans because they have seen them go wrong.
How can you find the best California estate planning attorney? Conduct research online through trusted sources such as The State Bar of California, read reviews, ask close family and friends for referrals, and interview a variety of different law firms. If you’re looking to hire an estate planning attorney in San Diego, please call Kam Law Firm and we’d be happy to give you a free consultation today.
One of the best things you can do for your family is to plan ahead. Creating an estate plan will help to protect yourself, family, and your legacy. If you have any questions regarding estate planning, please call us today at (619) 535-1405.