Clients often balk at the cost of hiring a qualified and experienced attorney to prepare their estate plan when so many low cost options exist on the internet. The cost of an online form can be as low as $60 or $100, while attorney’s fees to prepare an estate plan can range from $1,000 to $10,000 or more depending on the complexities involved. As is often the case, a machine simply cannot replace the expertise and flexibility of a human being. Although there are several reasons to obtain an estate plan from an attorney, the 5 most important benefits are listed below:
- Avoidance of Probate. A carefully crafted estate plan can save an executor, who is typically the surviving spouse or a child of the deceased person, from incurring the costs and headache associated with probate court. Probate of a will can be time consuming and expensive, both in attorney’s fees and court costs. An attorney can advise on the steps needed to avoid probate and assist in reaching that goal.
- Avoidance of estate taxes. Persons who die with assets exceeding the applicable estate tax exclusions may face severe consequences: costly estate taxes. Estate taxes can require payment of up to 40% of the value of assets at death to the federal or state government. An attorney can help devise an estate plan that can minimize or eliminate estate taxes, leaving more for the decedent’s heirs. In addition, the mere preparation of estate tax returns, which can sometimes be avoided with proper planning, can be costly and burdensome.
- Planning for all scenarios. Clients often have an idea of the perfect distribution of their assets upon their death. They may desire to donate funds charity, enrich loved ones, or even ensure a favorite pet will be cared for when they are gone. If the estate plan is somehow defective because of an error, the decedent’s goals may not be achieved. An attorney can help prevent a defect and ensure that an individual’s estate is administered in accordance with their wishes. An attorney can also carefully craft provisions that address contingencies or changes during the person’s lifetime, such as additional children or increased assets. An attorney can also amend documents if the person later changes his or her mind as to the desired distribution of assets.
- Ease of transfer upon death. Besides the cost and delay of probate, an attorney can assist in helping a deceased person’s heirs receive their inheritance faster with less cost and delay. By carefully reviewing a person’s assets during their lifetime, an attorney can prevent lengthy delays in distributing assets after a person’s death.
- Lifetime advice. An attorney that prepares an estate plan is available to answer most questions or concerns and make changes if necessary to ensure that the client’s wishes are carried out. A computer program is unable to provide personalized advice for a particular individual’s needs. The relationship between attorney and client is often one that literally last a lifetime!