The estate planning process is something that everyone should do, but it’s also something that far too few people actually get around to doing. The average person doesn’t know a lot about estate planning, and what you don’t know can be harmful. To take some of the mystery out of the estate planning process, let’s go over some of the more basic questions a lot of people have about this area of the law and why it matters.
What is an estate and why do I have to plan for it?
Everyone has an estate. No matter how much you own or how old you are, you have an estate whether you realize it or not. Your estate is simply all the property you own that you leave behind you after you die. Whether your property is valuable or insignificant, someone has to take possession over all of that stuff after you are gone. That’s what estate planning deals with.
What if I don’t care about my property? Do I still need an estate plan?
Yes. Even if you have absolutely no concern about what will happen to your property after you are gone, estate planning also deals with what might happen to you should you become incapacitated. An incapacitated person is someone who can no longer communicate.
For example, you might get Alzheimer’s disease someday and be left unable to communicate your wishes or express your desires. If that happens, who will look after your affairs? Who will make the important medical decisions you are faced with? If you don’t have an estate plan, you may not like the answers. All states have laws that determine who makes decisions for you in such a situation. Creating an estate plan means you get to choose who will act for you.
Okay, so I need an estate plan. But can’t I simply make a will on my own?
Yes. The legal reality is that you don’t ever need an attorney to help you create an estate plan. You can do everything on your own, including making your own last will and testament.
But you don’t want to make an estate plan on your own anymore than you want to book a flight and fly the airliner on your own. You need an expert. An estate plan has to be individually tailored to meet your needs. If, for example, you rely on a do-it-yourself guide, you’ll never be certain that you’ve created a plan that’s right for you in your situation. Taking the time to speak to an experienced estate planning lawyer is the only way to be sure you create a plan that meets all of your needs.