Estate Planning

What does my estate consist of?

Your “estate” consists of all property owned by you at the time of your death, including:

  • Real estate
  • Bank accounts
  • Stocks and other securities
  • Life insurance policies
  • Personal property such as automobiles, jewelry, and artwork.

Whether the property is in his or her sole name, held in a partnership, in a joint ownership arrangement, or through a trust, and all other monies that would be generated on the person`s death, such as through life insurance.

What is estate planning?

Estate planning is one of the most important steps any person can take to make sure that their final property and health care wishes are honored, and that loved ones are provided for in their absence; see Liberty Law estate planning for a broader definition. A process to consider alternatives for, to think through, and to set up legally effective arrangements that would meet your specific wishes if something happens to you or those you care about. Good estate planning is more than just a simple Will. Estate planning also typically minimizes potential taxes and fees, and sets up contingency planning to make sure your wishes regarding health care treatment are followed. On the financial side, a good estate plan coordinates what would happen with your home, your investments, your business, your life insurance, your employee benefits (such as a 401K plan), and other property in the event you became disabled or if you die.

On the personal side, a good estate plan includes directions to carry out your wishes regarding health care matters, so that if you ever are unable to give the directions yourself, someone you select would do that for you, and know when you would want them to authorize heroic measures and when you would prefer they pull the plug.

When should I start my estate plan?

The only time that you can prepare and implement an estate plan is while you are alive and have legal capacity to enter into a contract. If you are unable to manage your own affairs or suffer from some other disability which affects your legal capacity, your estate plan may be effectively challenged by those who assert that you lacked capacity at the time the documents were created, that you were subjected to fraud, coercion or undue influence during the creation and implementation of your plan. The best time to start an estate plan is now, while you have the capacity to do so.

How to trust attorneys

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our marriages end in divorce. Although an emotional and stressful time, we need to consider our legal rights in choosing an attorney. This decision is one of the most important decisions in your divorce. Here are some suggestions on how to proceed with this task.

Ask trusted advisors for suggestions. You may get attorney names from your mediator, therapist, clergy, good friends, or colleagues. You are looking for a lawyer who meets your needs, so keep in mind that your friend’s attorney may not necessarily be the best choice for you.

You may want to call several attorneys. You may find that in a short phone call you will get a “feel” for their style and their approach, etc. After each call, ask yourself: “Was I comfortable with this attorney?” “Do I want to find out more about him or her?” Listen to your inner voice.

You may then narrow your list and meet with several attorneys for an in-depth interview. Many are reluctant to take this next step, due to the cost of visiting with more than one attorney, however, choosing the right attorney for you is critically important. Some attorneys provide a free, short, initial consultation. Do not use this free service as your reasoning for a choice. Evaluate the answers to the questions asked. Beware of any attorney who promises that he or she can get you every result you want. That rarely happens in the complex and gray world of divorce.

Ask the right questions: Do they support mediation? Why or why not? If so, have they had mediation training? (This can help but is not always necessary.) What is the attorney’s personal approach or philosophy on divorce?

Further questions to ask include: What are the fees? How much is charged for phone calls and emails? Does the lawyer send an itemized bill? What sort of retainer is required? Will you get back part of the retainer if it is unused? (If the answer is no, then find another attorney.) What is the actual process for hiring the attorney? May he or she be hired on a limited basis, as a consultant?

Most attorneys request that clients sign an “engagement” or “retainer” agreement that specifies the kind of services the attorney will perform as well as the fee arrangement.The agreement can be comprehensive or limited. Limited engagements mean essentially limited services and clients who are interested in this option should raise this when interviewing attorneys.

It’s important to keep all of these questions in mind to help you find the best attorney to protect your legal rights throughout a divorce.