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Wills and Trusts are powerful estate planning documents that allow you to name beneficiaries and provide instructions on how your assets should be distributed to them after you pass away or become incapacitated. Wills are validated in probate court (also known as a surrogate’s court) and can contain burial instructions, funeral arrangements, and more. Trusts can allow you to avoid probate court altogether by naming trustees to distribute your estate in place of a court or judge.
Power of attorney documents allow you to name third parties to tend to your affairs during your lifetime. For example, a financial power of attorney allows you to designate a trusted individual or company to manage your bank accounts, stock brokerage accounts, and other finances. A power of attorney can be limited or durable depending on whether you would like to specify how long it lasts and to what extent, or whether you intend for it to be permanent and unconditional. It can also allow a third party designee to manage your real estate and other tangible and intangible properties.
Living Wills and/or Healthcare Directives relate to medical treatment during your lifetime, especially during incapacitation. For example, you can name a loved one to make life-and-death decisions for you, including on whether to “pull to plug” or to accept medical treatment or surgery from a doctor or hospital on your behalf. These types of estate planning documents, like powers of attorney, are only effective during your lifetime.
An estate planning attorney may provide a free consultation, and subsequent work may be performed on a flat fee or hourly basis. The total cost of these services will depend on the complexity of your estate and the extent of documents that you need to have prepared. For instance, if you don’t own much property and only intend to create a simple will to dispose of small personal assets and provide for funeral instructions, your cost may not exceed a few hundred dollars. On the other hand, a more complex will, when coupled with a trust, can run into the thousands of dollars depending on your special needs. Other documents, such as powers of attorney or medical directives, may cost a few hundred dollars each if prepared on a flat-fee basis. Hourly fees, on the other hand, can vary depending on an attorney’s years of experience and level of seniority.
Because state law and individual circumstances are unique, hiring an estate planning attorney is advised especially if you own substantial assets and want to properly plan your future (and your family’s future) accordingly. An estate planning lawyer can help you decide which kinds of documents are right for you; a law firm can also guide you toward the best legal strategies to use in order to minimize your estate taxes and provide the most for your future beneficiaries.
It is in your best interest to get legal help early on in addressing your situation. There are times when hiring a lawyer quickly is critical to your case, such as if you are charged with a crime. It may also be in your best interest to have a lawyer review the fine print before signing legal documents. A lawyer can also help you get the compensation you deserve if you’ve suffered a serious injury. For issues where money or property is at stake, having a lawyer guide you through the complexities of the legal system can save you time, hassle, and possibly a lot of grief in the long run.
For most consumer legal issues, the size of the practice is much less important than the experience, competence, and reputation of the attorney(s) handling your case. Among the most important factors when choosing an attorney are your comfort level with the attorney or practice and the attorney’s track record in bringing about quick, successful resolutions to cases similar to yours.
Pro se – This Latin term refers to representing yourself in court instead of hiring professional legal counsel. Pro se representation can occur in either criminal or civil cases.
Statute – Refers to a law created by a legislative body. For example, the laws enacted by Congress are statutes.
Subject matter jurisdiction – Requirement that a particular court have authority to hear the claim based on the specific type of issue brought to the court. For example, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court only has subject matter jurisdiction over bankruptcy filings, therefore it does not have the authority to render binding judgment over other types of cases, such as divorce.