There, I said it.
What do you need to know to do estate planning? Apparently nothing. In fact, it's so easy that the nice teller at the bank can do it. So can your bridge partner during the lulls in your bridge game. It's so easy your neighbor can do it over the fence when you are mowing your back yard.
What do I mean? Well, how many times have you heard the teller at your bank tell you that you really should add one of your children to your bank account "just in case something happens to you"? The teller is doing estate planning! Or what about your bridge partner, who tells you that you should have all of your assets in joint tenancy because she did, and when her husband died, everything was so easy to take care of? Your bridge partner is doing estate planning! Or remember when your neighbor told you over the fence that Saturday morning you were mowing your lawn that you don't need to worry about probate because after you die, your family can find all of the forms they need for probate online? Your neighbor was also doing estate planning!
But did the teller tell you that as soon as you die, the child whose name was on the bank account owns that account? And she doesn't have to share it with your other children? Sure, you know she will share it, but can she without creating a gift tax? And will she after her husband convinces her that you really wanted her to have the entire account, and she deserves it anyway because she always did more for you than the rest of your children? And if your daughter gets divorced, did the teller tell you that your (soon to be) ex-son-in-law is going to claim that part of the money in the bank belongs to your daughter, and he is entitled to half of it as community property?
And what about your bridge partner? She didn't tell you that she had to pay unnecessary capital gains tax after her husband died because everything was in joint tenancy rather than community property. And she didn't tell you that when she dies, her family will have to pay estate taxes that could have been avoided.
And your neighbor that was so helpful over the fence? Did he tell you that if you were to become incapacitated, that the court process your family members would have to go through requires attorneys, doctors, social workers and accountants? You can't get those online.
Maybe what I should have said is that estate planning seems too easy, but it really isn't. Everyone knows a little bit about estate planning, but there aren't too many who know or understand how all of the moving pieces fit together. How if you change one seemingly simple thing in one area, you could have devastating consequences in another area.
Estate planning doesn't have to be as complicated and difficult as a Rube Goldberg machine, and indeed, it shouldn't be. But it is certainly not a do-it-yourself proposition. Only someone with a detailed understanding of all of the areas of the law involved in estate planning-probate, estate tax, asset protection, Medicaid, guardianship, etc.-can give you the assistance you need to properly plan for your future.
I'm not as chatty as the teller at your bank, and I don't play bridge like your bridge partner. I certainly don't tell as corny jokes as your neighbor, but I do know estate planning. And so do the other attorneys at MH. Because all we do is estate planning, we know how all of the pieces of the estate planning puzzle fit together, and we can prepare an estate plan that fits your custom needs. So come see us, the experts!
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney in your community who can assess the specifics of your situation.