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Which Estate Plan Is Best For You?
What is Estate Planning? And What Kind of Estate Plan Do You Need?
The process of deciding who will get your assets in the case of your death or incapacitation is known as estate planning. The objective of estate planning is to ensure that heirs and beneficiaries receive assets that control and minimize tax issues like estate taxes and gift taxes.
There is a common misconception that all estate plans are the same, but this is not true. The assets and family dynamics of each client we serve in Towson, Maryland, are different. To determine the best estate plan for you, we go over your assets and talk about your family situation at the initial consultation.
Do you need an estate plan but do not know where to start? Get your Estate Plan off the ground now by calling our Towson, Maryland office to set up a schedule for a consultation with an estate planning attorney at Grafton Firm!
There is absolutely no risk in getting in touch with our Towson bankruptcy attorneys at Grafton Firm. If you have any questions or would like a free consultation on estate planning in Maryland, please call us now. Our time spent answering your questions and considering your unique circumstances in order to provide the best estate plan for you is provided free of charge.
What Is The Best Estate Plan For You?
Although every client’s estate plan is unique, it can all be classified into one of three categories: basic, intermediate, or advanced. We shall discuss these different categories below.
Basic Estate Plan
A basic estate plan comprises a will, a power of attorney for property, and a power of attorney for healthcare.
Power of Attorney for Health Care: When you or a loved one becomes unable to make health care choices for yourself, a health care power of attorney allows another person to act in your place and retrieve your medical records.
Power of Attorney for Property: In the event that you are unconscious, become mentally impaired, or are unable to make decisions about your property for yourself, a power of attorney for property grants an agent the authority to act on your behalf concerning property-related matters.
Wills: Wills are documents that say what a person wants to happen to their assets after they die and how they want them to be divided. It’s important to know that a will only apply to “Probate Assets,” which are assets that don’t have a designated beneficiary. A Will also names your Executors, who will take care of your Estate after you die, and a Guardian for any minor child/children.
If your family dynamic is uncomplicated, you have no estate tax issues, and you can easily transfer assets to a loved one through a beneficiary designation. A basic estate plan may be all you need.
Intermediate Estate Plans
An intermediate estate plan needs either a will with a Children’s Trust or a Simple Revocable Living Trust.
Will with a “Children’s Trust”: Anybody in Maryland with minor or grown children in their 20s or 30s should think about putting a “Children’s Trust” in their Will. If you and your spouse died at the same time, your assets would be split evenly between your children and put in trust for each child until the age you set in the Children’s Trust. You also designate a trustee to oversee the Children’s Trust’s assets and distribute funds as needed for the beneficiary’s care, education, support, and maintenance.
Simple Revocable Living Trust: Revocable Living Trusts are simpler trusts that people usually set up to keep their estates out of probate. Revocable living trusts are incredibly flexible, and the person who creates one has total control of the assets that they deposit in the trust throughout their lifetime.
An Intermediate Estate Plan is the best estate plan for you if you only need a simple trust to avoid probate and/or need to set up a trust for your children or other heirs for some reason. Most of the time, the people who would benefit most from this type of estate plan don’t have issues to worry about regarding estate tax or protecting their assets.
Advanced Estate Plans
Advanced Estate Plans combine Wills, Revocable Living Trusts, Irrevocable Trusts, and Limited Liability Companies to safeguard assets, protect from liabilities, and avoid estate taxes. Additionally, with an Advanced Estate Plan, these people can retain considerably more control over their assets after their death.
Advanced estate planning is the best estate plan for you if you have a big estate, medium to large company, or a blended family.
Do-It-Yourself: Estate Planning On Your Own
The term “Do it Yourself” brings to mind visions of weekend trips to Home Depot, an injured thumb, or the sense of accomplishment that comes with a newly painted room. However, even the professionals at DIY publications like This Old House constantly advise people not to take on projects that are best left to professionals like electricians, excavators, plumbers, and others. The repercussions, such as a ruptured gas main or electrical shocks, might have devastating results.
DIY (“do it yourself”) providers have sprung up in numerous industries, from income tax filing to planning an estate, in recent years. These providers claim to offer, for a low price, the opportunity to use a computer to create documents that look like they were written by a professional. In the same way that the world of home improvement provides tools to allow DIY projects, these services also give tools, but they must be treated with caution.
In difficult fields such as estate planning, those who attempt to substitute competent professional advice with a DIY online document should be aware of the consequences of their choices. Take note that many professionals hesitate to use their skills outside of their expertise. Think of the wise words of the esteemed Judge Rifkind on the topic of tax law: “after fifty years of law practice, I would no more have the audacity to draft my own tax return than I would participate in open heart surgery.”
In light of these issues, the American Bar Association’s Section of Real Property, Trust, and Estate Law (the “Section”) established a Task Force to examine the efficacy of do-it-yourself (DIY) estate plans. The Task Force has given thought to a variety of issues, such as the potential inadequacies and incompleteness of do-it-yourself solutions. The Task Force is now examining most of the feedback on do-it-yourself estate planning, and a more in-depth report will be released soon. Some of the numerous issues found by the Task Force will be discussed below.
The Rise of Do-It-Yourself Tools on the Internet
The number of Do-It-Yourself legal services keeps growing. LegalZoom may have the most ads of any do-it-yourself service. BusinessRocket.net, Corporate Filing Solutions Made Easy, Lawdepot.com, LawyerAhead, Nolo, RocketLawyer, Standard Legal, We the People, and others are examples of other providers.
DIY providers publicize their services by charging minimal prices for documents which would normally cost a lot more if an attorney made them. LegalZoom, for example, charges a $69 fee to make a will and has assisted more than half a million people. There have been concerns raised about DIY legal service providers engaging in unlicensed legal activity. At least 3 states (Connecticut, Missouri, and North Carolina) have sued LegalZoom for breaking the unauthorized practice of law statutes in their states.
Some lawyers have said that the biggest risk of making an estate plan with LegalZoom or another do-it-yourself legal service is that it makes clients feel a false sense of security.
Is Do-It-Yourself for You?
DIY may be suitable in some cases. For instance, if someone in Maryland has only a few small assets to his name and wants to leave them to his closest living relative, it might be better and far more cost-effective to utilize an online service. However, for people whose lives are even a little bit more complicated, making a Will online is risky, and it’s risky in a way that will have lasting effects.
In the past, what we now call a “Will” was called something more serious: a “Last Will and Testament.” This name shows how important these documents should be since a Will is among the few things we do that lives on after we die. It leaves behind a legacy that could have long-term financial and emotional effects on our loved ones, who are the most important people in our lives. If mistakes are made when writing this kind of important document, they can greatly affect family relationships. At best, family members will be disappointed or confused, and at worst, they will be locked in a fight with each other.
Consider one example: a person from New Jersey decided to buy a Will form kit, which probably didn’t cost much. He carefully wrote out his plans by hand on the form document. He didn’t do it in the right way and probably thought his “simple Will” was done right, so he signed it and then apparently killed himself. But in the end, his heirs paid for what he had done.
In the lawsuit that followed (called “Matter of Will of Feree”), a New Jersey trial court had a hard time figuring out how to understand and follow his handwritten changes to the form. Under New Jersey probate law, the words on the pre-printed form could not be used because Mr. Feree had not signed the Will correctly (majority of states require a Will to be signed with 2 witnesses present, and a few states even require 3 witnesses). The Court’s attempt to save Mr. Feree’s work—along with the subsequent journey to the New Jersey appellate court—likely caused the family to lose tens of thousands of dollars or more.
Will Your DIY Estate Plan Work After You’re Gone?
A will must satisfy the criteria for probate, appropriately dispose of the estate, deal with the payment of debts, taxes, and other obligations, name fiduciaries to manage the estate and possibly guardians for minor children, and do all of these things without inciting dispute or animosity among the beneficiaries. When writing a Will in Maryland, a person should keep in mind that the real test of his work will come after he dies. After that, his voice will never be heard again. If he writes his own Will, it’s likely that no one, or at least no one who doesn’t have a financial stake in the outcome, will be able to explain what his actual intentions are.
Why Hire an Experienced Estate Planning Lawyer?
Before taking the plunge into writing your own estate planning documents in Maryland, consider the following:
What a Counselor-at-Law Does:
An estate planning lawyer in Maryland does more than just know how to write complicated documents. Most have a lot of experience helping people make these kinds of important decisions.
For instance, most of them have helped couples sort through the different options for choosing a guardian for their most valuable “possession”—their young children. Spouses may have different ideas about who should be the guardian. They might need help to figure out what a guardian does. The Counselor-at-Law is an important part of these and all the other discussions about estate planning.
The “Simple Plan”:
Consider the plan of an elderly woman who has two loving adult children, one of whom lives with her, and two assets: a $300,000 house and a $300,000 bank account. Her simple solution? She’ll make sure both kids are happy by giving them the same amount of things.
So, she writes a Will and tells her son to take care of the house and her daughter to take care of the account. She puts the Will in her desk, and she and her husband live happily ever after. Her children? They don’t seem too happy. After she died, they found out that Mom used all of her money to pay her bills, leaving nothing for her daughter.
One can imagine the son who gets the house telling the daughter that he feels bad for her, but Mom wanted him to have the house. The daughter naturally thinks that Mom’s plan failed. She takes him to court. If Mom’s intentions had been known and made clear, the lawsuit could have been avoided with the right help and advice.
Failure to Properly State Dispositions:
A valid Will must state clearly how the assets are to be given away. The words used must be decisive. A letter of instructions or a few sentences about a person’s general preferences won’t do. If you write your own Will, you might use words, phrases, or descriptions that don’t do what you want them to do. If “testamentary intention” words aren’t used, the Will could be thrown out, and “precatory” language (like “I would like”) could make the dispositions unenforceable.
Who Will Explain Your Intentions?
When there is a dispute, family members will often say a lot of different things about what the dead person wanted. Who will the judge trust? Trying to figure out what the dead person wanted may be one of the hardest things a judge has to do. Many people seek the voice of the deceased in someone who spoke to him while he was still living about what he intended to happen after he died but do not gain anything from the Will. This is usually an estate planning lawyer.
Births, Deaths, Marriages, Divorces, and Incapacity:
A person’s life could be drastically altered by any of these events. They can also change how an estate is supposed to be divided in Maryland. For instance, in some states that have adopted different versions of the Uniform Probate Code, a divorce may automatically cancel dispositions to the former spouse.
But who gets the share of the ex-spouse? That share could go straight to the minor children, so a court might have to name a guardian (maybe the ex-spouse) to hold and manage the assets. Or will the court take care of those assets? Any other changes in family relationships also need to be thought about in the same way. A good estate plan should take these things into account.
Get Legal Help Finding the Best Estate Plan for You
Probate laws are among the oldest in existence. Even though the terms and concepts may seem ancient, you don’t have to figure out everything on your own. Grafton Firm’s Towson bankruptcy attorneys can help you map out your estate plan and draft important documents.
And because we’re a small law firm, we can keep our costs low and pass those savings on to your family. Call today to get the help of a family-friendly law firm with decades of experience!