Frequently Asked Estate Planning Questions
Q: "Should I have a trust?"
A: Yes, especially if you have real property, cars or other titled interests. Most people associate Trusts with the Rockefellers and the Kennedys and other wealthy families. The fact that wealthy families have been using trusts for centuries should tell everyone that there are some advantages to a trust. The computer age has decreased the costs to the point that everyone can afford a trust. The primary advantages are the ability to avoid the expensive costs and prolonged times of Probate as well as influence the behavior and interests of your heirs from beyond the grave.
Q: "Why should I use an Attorney and pay more when there are software programs available that appear to do the same thing?"
A: Appearances can be deceiving. If all you wish to do is pass your house and cars outside probate, then a software program might be sufficient. Any Estate Attorney worth his salt will provide a more pervasive, more comprehensive and better custom tailored Estate Plan than a software program can provide. The subtleties of language used to address your specific needs and wishes vary from case to case and software rarely is able to make those distinctions. Estate Attorneys also carry insurance that can cover any expenses incurred if mistakes are made, whereas most software programs tell you to seek legal assistance to insure that there are no problems with what they have created. This causes them to have little or no liability if something goes wrong with the Estate Planning. Using Software may decrease expenses if an Attorney simply reviews the documents. However, as the old adages go, "You get what you pay for" and "Pay a little, get a little."
Q: "Is the expense of Estate Planning worth it?"
A: Yes. Not only do you save your heirs money by avoiding probate, which can consume 5-10% or more of your estate, more importantly you can make your passing easier for them. By outlining your funeral preferences or planning it yourself, by setting down your desires for distribution of your assets and interests, and by providing for any expenses, you can help your loved ones grieve you without losing themselves or their family relationships with arguments over the other details or about what you would have wanted.
Q: "Should I leave an equal division to each of my Heirs? That is the fair thing to do, isn't it?"
A: Not all estates need to be equally divided. While it might appear to be the fair thing to do, the better question is "Is it a Just division and how should we measure fairness?" Not all children or grandchildren are as close as others. Nor do they provide care, companionship or comfort in equal measure. It is only in the last Forty years or so that a movement of unaccountability has arisen. In the past, you were responsible for your actions and there were repercussions for said actions. Children, who spent time with their parents, took care of their parents or played an active role in the family business received more than children who estranged themselves or divorced themselves from their family. To reward everyone equally regardless of their behavior or to reward based on proper behavior is the choice of every person engaging in Estate Planning.
We would just like to point out that if you were unable to gain their love or forgiveness during life, it is unlikely that you will be able to buy it from the grave. However, those who honored you with time and service can easily become resentful if their proper loving behavior is valued no more than the disrespectful behavior of others. Equal division always seem fairer to those who least deserve their shares.
Q: "Can I maintain a level of control or influence over my Heirs through Estate Planning?"
A: Yes. However, it is not always easy and involves more work on both your part and the attorney's part. A perfect example of the possibilities is portrayed in the modern movie " The Ultimate Gift." In the movie, a Will appears to set the conditions, but in actuality all of the assets are coming out of Trusts. The Grandson, Jason Stephens, has to perform twelve tasks before he can gain his inheritance. In the process, as hoped by his Grandfather, Red Stephens, Jason learns to be more of a normal human with better values and goals. Not all of us have the resources of a Red Stephens, but similar influence can be arranged with proper Estate Planning.