1. Why do I need a lawyer to do a Will?
There are generic Will forms you can buy. But, you are facing a range of planning issues that would benefit from discussion with a knowledgeable professional, qualified in the local law of your area. In addition to rules related to Wills, trusts, and probate, your situation may also involve legal aspects of domestic relations, real estate, retirement and other financial accounts, family business concerns, charitable donations, lifetime gifting limits, and federal and local tax law. As the forms don’t provide legal advice, you could be running some serious risks and making errors your family won’t know about until it’s too late.
You should be able to ask lots of questions and draw upon an advisor who is experienced in matters about which you may be undecided; for example, choosing an appropriate Guardian, arranging for an inheritance to an infant or a financially irresponsible or disabled relative, treatment of children from blended marriages, making gifts to charitable organizations for specific purposes, or setting up care for a pet.
An estate-planning lawyer can also coordinate with your other professionals – – accountant, stock broker, insurance agent, financial planner — so that there are assets that actually pass through the Will or trust, as well as the implementing provisions and correct titles.
Estate planning is not just preparing a Will; it is a process of preparing for the future that encompasses issues arising while you are very much alive. Would it be a good idea to set up a living trust, not just to avoid probate but to have things organized and functional even if there were any sudden problems? Should you add a family member to your property deed? Who should have your power of attorney, used for incapacity or travel, and how extensive should the authorization be? Would making lifetime gifts or bequests be better for your tax situation? What advance instructions should you prepare for medical personnel, and who should be your health-care appointee? Do you have the right wording in the beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts and insurance policies, to go with your estate-planning documents? This really isn’t a do-it-yourself project.