After endless procrastination, you and your spouse finally decide to hire an attorney to help prepare an “estate plan.”
You discover Frankenstein and Elvira, PLLC through a popular search engine. The reviews are mostly positive, especially as it relates to their criminal defense and divorce law practices. As an added bonus, their office is located only a few miles away on Spooky Lane. You reach out to them via email. Poof! Before you know it, you are in Mr. Frankenstein’s cobweb filled office signing a will. Poof! You are back home staring at a folder full of legal documents glowing ominously like green slime on the kitchen counter. Your spouse finally breaks the uncomfortable silence “Do you understand any of those documents?”
Of course, this ghastly tale is intentionally vague and exaggerated. But it highlights the feelings of disjointedness, confusion, and uncertainty that many folks experience as they muddle through the estate planning process. The purpose of this article will be to explain some ways to minimize these negative feelings and to maximize the value of the estate planning services that you receive from your attorney.
Your Estate Plan May Be More Simple Than You Think
First and foremost, Frankenstein and Elvira, PLLC may be a solid law firm. But do they have a dedicated estate planning practice? Many attorneys dabble in estate planning because it appears to be a simple form-based source of extra revenue. This approach almost always leads to an unsatisfactory outcome. The real job of an estate planning attorney is to fully understand a client’s estate planning goals, carefully analyze those goals, and provide the client with appropriate options. The majority of the time the final documents are simple. But the process ensures that each client receives an estate plan suited for their own estate planning needs.
The takeaway: Mr. Frankenstein may be fun to visit for Halloween but find an estate planning attorney to handle your estate planning.
Beware! Danger! There is another potential pitfall lurking on the corner of Spooky Lane and Money Pit Drive. The attorneys at The Law Office of Dracula and Wolfman only prepare estate plans in one size: X-LARGE. There are certainly clients who require complex plans as a result of complicated goals, blended families, children with special needs, high net worth, etc. Moreover, it is reasonable for law firms to charge higher fees for plans that require either a more complex analysis or a more complex set of documents. But most folks do not need plans that barely fit into an enormous three-ring binder.
The takeaway: Work with law firms that offer a few different sizes to choose from.
Not the Place to Cut Corners
Time is a valuable commodity. This is especially true as we head into the holiday season. As a result, we are sometimes willing to cut corners. Do not cut corners when it comes to fully understanding your estate planning documents.
Most attorneys will carefully review them with you as part of their regular practice. But if your attorney “ghosts” you without making the effort, insist otherwise.
Also, remember to ask any questions you have; even if Mr. Frankenstein already summoned his two mummy witnesses to “wrap” things up.
The takeaway: Make sure you fully understand your documents before you find yourself at home with a glowing folder full of gobbledygook.
Pumpkin-based custard filling is delicious. However, without pie crust and a dollop of whip cream, it is not pumpkin pie. Similarly, a will without power of attorney documents is not an “estate plan.” Even the simplest plans should include wills, healthcare powers of attorney, living wills, and financial powers of attorney. The absence of powers of attorney often lead to a guardianship proceeding – which is almost always a nightmare for you and your family.
The takeaway: When you order a slice of pie, don’t just settle for the filling.
Estate Planning is a Team Effort
Mr. Bone Jangles, a highly respected estate planning attorney, always sends his potential clients an estate planning questionnaire. It requests all of the important information he will need to start his analysis. The questionnaire specifically requests that clients provide him with full names, full addresses, full phone numbers, etc. for both themselves and anyone else who will be named in the documents. Mr. and Mrs. Pumpkin Spice return the questionnaire a few hours later – in an effort to get things moving more quickly – but only provide bits and pieces of the requested information. Mr. Bone Jangles will certainly follow up as many times as necessary to fill in those gaps. But this scenario highlights another important point, the client will only get out of their estate planning experience what they put into it.
What is scarier than watching a horror movie on Halloween with the lights turned off? Probate. What can help dissipate the fright? A discussion with your estate planning attorney about ways to either minimize or avoid probate. Mr. Bone Jangles always discusses important items like beneficiary designations, payable on death designations (POD), transfer on death designations (TOD), revocable trusts, account retitling, etc. Mr. Frankenstein may not even mention these critical tools because his focus is not on the big picture. This is also an area where a team effort is required. For example, if Mr. and Mrs. Pumpkin Spice fail to transfer their assets into their revocable trust as explicitly advised by Mr. Bone Jangles, they will not have maximized its value.
The takeaway: Estate planning is more than just a folder full of legal documents.
Estate Planning Should Not Be Scary
In fact, it should be very straightforward and simple for most folks. Finding an experienced estate planning attorney is the first step in that direction. And if you are feeling anxiety or confusion over an existing estate plan, it is not too late to find answers to questions or solutions to problems.
The final takeaway: Happy Halloween!
Outline of This Episode
- [1:34] The law offices of Frankenstein and Elvira may be too generalized
- [5:25] The law offices of Dracula and Wolfman may create overly complicated plans
- [9:15] What is a Crummey trust?
- [11:22] Should you put your house in a trust?
- [12:29] Mr. Bonjangles forgets the details
- [15:21] Avoid the horrors of probate
- [23:50] Progress principles
Resources & People Mentioned
- Episode 165 – Why You Need a Professionally Prepared Estate Plan
- Download the ESTATE PLANNING CHECKLIST