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Estate Planning

Planning for the future often includes the types of jobs we want or where we’d like to live in the years to come, but too often, preparing for the future doesn’t involve our estates

In fact, according to several statistical studies, few Americans — approximately 50 percent — have a will. Even if you don’t think you have sufficient assets to have an “estate,” there are very good reasons to take advantage of the estate planning services offered by the attorneys in our legal insurance plan attorney network

Because the coverage included in your group’s U.S. Legal Services legal insurance plan may vary, please check with your group’s administrator for specific benefit details.

Estate Planning Documents

These are some of the most common estate planning documents:

Wills can help ensure that your loved ones will be provided for and specify how your assets and property should be distributed. In the absence of a will, laws in your state will likely determine the distribution, and those laws may not be in accordance with your wishes.

If you have children, a will is vital for naming guardians who would step in if you and the children’s other parent were not available to raise them. Without a will, the local court would have to name a guardian without knowing your wishes and surviving family members may find themselves in a custody battle.

Wills do not have to be complex — a straightforward document that directs the distribution of your property may be all that’s needed, but a qualified estate planning attorney should always be consulted for help in determining how detailed your will should be.

Trusts, unlike wills, take effect when they’re created rather than when you pass. A trust is a legal arrangement that can be used to distribute property before, upon, or after death. One of the main differences between trusts and wills is that trusts don’t have to go through probate (the court-supervised process of transferring property) as wills do, since property or assets are legally transferred to the trust while the person entrusting his or her assets to another person is alive. Trusts can have a number of other advantages, including beneficial ways to transfer wealth and minimize estate taxes.

A trust can also be used to set aside assets, such as life insurance proceeds, for children and specify at what age they would have access to the assets.

Living wills define your healthcare wishes for your physician and loved ones in case you can’t do so yourself. Living wills can be used to specify what actions should or should not be taken if you’re incapacitated, such as whether you would want to receive pain medication.

A power of attorney is used to appoint a person (or “agent”) to make healthcare decisions on your behalf in case you become unable to do so. A “durable” power of attorney also gives the agent permission to manage your financial affairs. When you set up a power of attorney, you can decide how much power your appointed agent will have in making your healthcare or financial decisions.

The Benefits of Estate Planning

Legal estate planning documents can help relieve your loved ones or survivors of the often difficult task of managing your property, finances, or healthcare decisions on their own. No matter your age or net worth, estate planning puts you in control and helps ensure that your wishes will be carried out.

Even if you’ve already planned your estate, consider reviewing and/or updating your planning documents whenever a major life event occurs, such as moving to another state, receiving an inheritance, experiencing health issues, expanding your family, or changing your marital status.

Consult with an Estate Planning Attorney

Although there are do-it-yourself estate planning documents available, estate planning should be done with the advice of an attorney who can help guide you through the process. Because U.S. Legal Services makes accessing a qualified attorney simple and affordable, our legal insurance plan members may be able to take advantage of their plan benefits to consult with an attorney on estate planning matters.

This information is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice. Each situation and matter is unique and should be discussed with a U.S. Legal Services network attorney.

Estate Planning FAQs

What does an estate planning attorney do?

An estate planning attorney focuses on legal matters that are connected to protecting your estate, meaning your assets that you would pass along to someone else upon your death. Some of the more typical activities therefore include helping clients to create a last will and testament; and, sometimes, creating a trust. Beneficiaries need designated as part of the process and this type of attorney can also help you to find effective ways to help your beneficiaries reduce estate taxes. Estate planning attorneys also help clients to create living wills, and powers of attorney (financial and/or medical). Although these documents can be associated with older adults, or at least people who are old enough to have children, there is significant value in having at least two of these documents—the two powers of attorney—completed for someone as soon as he or she turns 18.

Do I need estate planning?

Most people with assets and someone to leave them to should create an estate plan. At its simplest, the plan would include the creation of a will that describes how your property should be distributed and, if necessary, who should care for children under the age of 18. An estate planning attorney can also help beneficiaries to pay significantly less in estate taxes. If your financial situation merits it, the attorney can help you set up a trust. Besides wills and trusts, people as young as 18 can benefit from having a financial power of attorney and health care power of attorney. For example, if a young adult gets into a car accident, a parent may not be able to get information about the child’s condition or treatments given without having a health care power of attorney. Now let’s say the college student decides to study abroad. A financial power of attorney can give a trusted person, perhaps a parent, the ability to handle his or her financial matters while the student is away. Plus, although no one likes to think of end of life care, a living will allows you to legally state wishes.

How do I prepare for estate planning?

You’ll want to have a solid list of your assets, including property, vehicles, bank accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and so forth. What about jewelry or art of value? Are you listed as a beneficiary in someone else’s will or trust? This is the type of information that your estate planning attorney will need to know. This is also when to decide who you want to receive which of your assets after your death; who you’d like to care for children under the age of 18; and who you’d like to be your executor. Do you want to make bequests to charity? If so, which ones and how much? What are your end of life wishes? Do you want palliative care? To donate your organs? This is a partial list, but should help to get you prepared for your estate planning consultation.

How much does it cost to do estate planning?

You can DIY your estate planning with kits that cost $10 to $60; books that can cost up to about $100; and estate planning software that can cost up to $250. The problem with DIY is that, if the documents aren’t executed properly, according to the laws in your state, this can be a highly expensive error to make. Estate planning attorneys can charge anywhere from $100 to $1,000 per hour, or more, with total costs sometimes running into the thousands. Another option is to become a member of a legal insurance plan, such as Family Defender™, where you pay a low monthly fee to have access to network attorneys that provide estate planning services.

What is the difference between a will and estate planning?

A will, meaning someone’s last will and testament, where he or she details how assets should be distributed, is one component of estate planning. A living will, where someone lists end of life wishes, ranging from palliative care to resuscitation and so forth, is also an element. Estate planning, though, encompasses more than both of these documents, including powers of attorney (financial and health care), trusts, ways to reduce estate taxes paid by beneficiaries, and so forth. Although there are standard components of this type of planning, each person can have unique situations and requirements, so it can make sense to consult an estate planning attorney for personalized advice. Legal benefit plans make it affordable!