Estate Planning Law
Estate planning law governs the laws and procedures involved in the administration of an individual's estate while still alive and the process by which the estate will be distributed in the event the individual becomes incapacitated or when the individual is deceased. An estate consists of all of the individual's property, including house and other real estate; and tangible and intangible property. Estate planning also takes into consideration taxes to be paid during the distribution of assets and the selection of appropriate heirs.
The Uniform Probate Code seeks to clarify, unify and modernize estate planning laws throughout the United States and Washington, D.C.; however, only 30% of the states have completely adopted the Code, while the remaining 70% of states adopted only a portion of the Code. Thus, estate planning law vary greatly from state to state.
An estate plan must include the following: (1) a will; (2) assignment of power of attorney; (3) a living will or health-care proxy; and (4) for some people, a trust. Estate planning is for everyone, not just for the wealthy. Estate planning is for anyone who has property, regardless of whether it is in millions or in hundreds. Estate planning is also not just for older people because time will never tell when an individual will be incapacitated or will die. Estate planning is straightening an individual's life so that when that person can no longer make sane decisions, he or she will continue to live his or her life according to how he or she wants to live.
Drafting estate planning documents is relatively easy and may be completed without the guidance of an attorney. However, there may be unknown complicating issues that need legal advice. Thus it is advisable to have an expert estate planning attorney run through the documents. In addition, there is the issue on probate, the court process to determine whether a will is valid or not. A will is not a guarantee that the probate process will be easy. Probate is usually a lengthy and expensive process, which may involve different courts. If an individual has numerous properties in different states, each property may have to go through probate in accordance with the laws of the state where it is located. State laws on estate planning differ greatly, thus, an attorney who is knowledgeable on the myriad of laws involved in estate planning need to be retained.
Another area in estate planning that would require the expertise of an attorney would be the drafting of a trust. Trusts are draft to mainly avoid probate. An expert on estate planning would know other ways to avoid probate, aside from the drafting of a trust. Probate can be avoided when the property is jointly owned, in the case of spouses, or when the property is life insurance, annuities, or retirement plans.
An estate planning law attorney can greatly help in making sure that all properties are accounted for, the applicable taxes are taken into consideration, and all appropriate heirs are include to cut short the lengthy and expensive probate.