Why You Need an Attorney
The internet is a wonderful tool to learn about a myriad of topics, we can even watch YouTube videos that demonstrate exactly how to accomplish a variety of things. We ask Google, Alexa and Siri for television schedules, the weather report, and trivia questions. It used to be the younger generation who reached for their smartphone to look up the answers to questions that came up during conversation, but nowadays, it is folks of all ages.
In particular, I have noticed that a common question on Facebook groups is for an estate planning attorney in the area and while some attorneys are named, there is usually at least one suggestion to use an online option. The internet is a great place to get educated on estate and elder law issues, but I do not recommend relying on that technology for our estate planning needs.
A good estate planning attorney asks about their client’s goals as well as the client’s family, concerns, assets and income. Usually, the attorney begins to gather this information as part of the intake process prior to the first consultation. As the attorney reviews this information, they usually see issues, perhaps red flags that they should follow up on. This valuable information helps to facilitate the meeting so that they can accomplish as much as possible in their time with the client. I often see that people answer the questions without understanding the legal significance of their answers. For example, the average person usually does not understand the importance of whether any of their heirs might end up on an asset tested benefit or if they do what their options are to provide for that person without disqualifying them from their benefits. Further, most people do not understand how a blended family can impact the estate, how step children and step grandchildren will be addressed, or the pros and cons of gifting property.
During a consultation, the above issues and so many others are discussed in detail. Most of the time, the client expresses how the information provided by the attorney helped them to not only make a better decision but also prevented them from making a serious mistake with their estate plan. Of course, those who do not take advantage of that legal information usually do not realize it because the complications occur when the documents are needed, meaning the person is either incapacitated or deceased, it is their family who must deal with the consequences.
For example, I often see clients who purposefully do not mention estranged children since they do not want to include them as heirs, but that opens the door for that child to contest their parent’s will. Or I see parents give their homes or some portion of ownership rights to their child to avoid probate, but they do not realize there are other options to accomplish that goal that are better for maintaining control and avoiding taxes. Or the parent who thinks they are doing their child a favor to add their name to all of their assets, but then has a car accident that exposes their child (as the co-owner) to the parent’s liability.
Sometimes there are very simple solutions to what feels like a monumental issue. The best way to make sure you resolve your concerns without unknowingly causing larger issues is to work with an estate planning attorney who has considered these issues hundreds, if not thousands of times.