The death of a loved one floods us with feelings of grief, loss, and sadness. As those left behind grapple with this human loss, the absolute last thing that is needed is the dagger of probate.
Probate is a trap for the unwary. It can quickly ensnare one’s estate upon death even for uncontested wills. This can plunges the estate into a painstakingly slow and costly probate process. While this process is foreign and confusing to a layperson, it is a boon to the pockets of estate lawyers.
There is a misnomer that the government stands in the loot line as well, ready to pillage the decedent’s estate by way of what is commonly known as the death tax. In truth and fact, it’s not death and taxes most of us should be worrying about but death and probate. In large part, this is due to a very friendly and favorable federal exemption that shields most estates from taxation.
Historically the federal exemption was not friendly at all, and estate attorneys had to resort to complicated trusts designed to shelter an estate from the sting of the death tax. Indeed, the federal exemption was as low as $675,000 in 2001. Upon one’s death, the taxman would cometh like the hovering presence of the grim reaper, He can carve out a deep 37% tax on every dollar of the decedent’s estate over the exempt amount.
The result was so harsh and unfair that former President George Bush orchestrated the passage of a massive tax reform relief package in 2001. It dramatically raised the federal exemption incrementally over time. Now it exceeds five million dollars. Many taxpayers gave an enormous sigh of relief. Although there was a possibility that these highly welcome and beneficial changes would sunset and phase out, Congress acted again under President Barrack Obama and in 2013 passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act. This Act made permanent the dramatic increases in the federal exemption. The wisdom of Congress was not lost on the next presidential administration, and in 2018 came the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which doubled the exemption. The end result is that as we sit here today, the federal exemption is over $11,000,000 – yup, that’s a whopping eleven million dollars. And for a couple, this can exceed $22,000,000.
Sounds great, huh? Well, don’t relax just yet, as the dagger of probate still awaits those who do not undertake proper estate planning. If the value of your estate does not exceed $150,000, then the estate is thrust into the nightmare that is probate. No matter what your estate is worth, you need an estate lawyer that can help you with estate planning and a living trust.
As an attorney, my law firm can make tens of thousands of dollars probating an estate. The cost of a living trust package averages only $1,000. It can entirely insulate an estate from probate. It can allow those you leave behind the ability to seamlessly tend to the affairs of your estate. The living trust leaves probate courts and with the lawyers on the sideline. A living trust carefully crafted and customized to the individual client also carries multiple other features that protect your assets and your estate.
Do I need a lawyer for estate planning?: Before hiring an estate planning law firm, some clients are tempted by the cheap lure of the “do-it-yourself” approach. Generic prepackaged trusts and sample estate plans are widely available on the internet. These assembly line type trusts are peddled to a mass audience. Most clients are not trained in estate planning and they do not realize that any number of scenarios can arise which, if not addressed in the trust, could result in legal warfare and involvement of the probate court after the person’s death.
Do I need an estate attorney? Do you need a lawyer for an estate?: An attorney is a very wise choice for estate planning. Unfortunately, a person embarking on the “do-it-yourself” approach does not realize a critical mistake they made since the impact of the mistake is not felt until after their death. That is the danger of the do-it-yourself approach – the mistake is a lot different from a hole left in your roof that is quickly noticed as soon as the next rainfall. Instead, the mistake made by the “do-it-yourselfer” lays in silence and the damage is only made known until after the time of death, and by then it is too late to correct.
How do I do estate planning?: There is not a “one size fits all” for estate planning. “How to” guides are a trap for the unwary. The little-known fact is that an improperly drafted trust often winds up in court due to a scenario that arose which is not addressed in the estate planning trust.
How do I find an estate attorney?: There are many ways to locate a qualified estate planning attorney. Most important is that your choice of an estate attorney be someone who informs and educates you. An estate planning attorney should also be patient and take the time to guide the client through the process. Almost all estate planning law firms provide a free consultation, so the client should take advantage of the opportunity to meet the attorney and have all their questions answered at no charge.
How much does it cost to hire an estate attorney?: The cost of hiring an estate planning attorney can vary widely from one law firm to another. Factors in the cost include the size of the estate, and whether the trust is for a married couple or a single person. Attorney fees typically range anywhere from $750 to $1,500, and can go higher for wealthy estates.
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“Iron Clad Living Trust in Temecula was so affordable for my living trust and Estate Planning. This Living Trust attorney is very personable and gave me a living trust for only $750. He was so helpful!” . . . Mary H.
“Wanted to update several Trust documents. Mr Hanks gave me good advice on several questions I had, gave me the fee amount to revise my documents and I had the finish product in a few days. I called several months later to ask about a referral to another professional in the area. His secretary called the next day with a name and phone number.” . . . S. Spotter
“We went to Paul for our living trust, he was helpful, and provided everything that was needed. If you need legal assistance and live in Santee, give Paul a call and see how he can help. I do not think you will be disappointed.” . . . Les Ford
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