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When To Hire a Lawyer for Your Estate Planning Needs

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Bill Kerst President, Community First Trust Company.

We are beginning to have more calls from individuals regarding “fill-in-the-blank” estate planning documents “as seen on TV.” Legal fees are climbing and these ads are another effort to save money, by basically “couponing” away from an attorney. But every one of these documents that I have seen failed to address what the client really wanted. I’m sure in some families they might work, but we really should address those situations when it probably doesn’t. Below is a list of just a few situations that I believe should require the use of competent legal counsel:

  • If you have minor children and want to control access/distributions to them until they reach a certain age, or control the purposes of the distributions for example: funding education, buying a home, starting a business, etc.)
  • If you have a taxable estate (keep in mind, under current law the $5 million exemption for 2011 and 2012 returns to $1 million in 2013)
  • If you have substantial assets in 401(k)s or IRA’s
  • If you own real estate in more than one state
  • If you have children from a previous marriage
  • If you have a beneficiary or spouse who is disabled
  • If you have a beneficiary or spouse who won’t or can’t manage money
  • If you have children with drug or alcohol problems
  • If you have children with creditor or divorce issues
  • If you own a business
  • If you want to leave a bequest to charity
  • If you want to make certain who will take care of you and manage your assets in the event of incapacity or prolonged illness

I know those fill-in-the-blank documents for $99 are tempting, but the cost to make corrections in court later and the loss of time may not offset the benefit of those late night savings.

I would guess that about half the readers of this article just said “it won’t matter I’ll be gone . . .” and that may be true, but it will matter to your heirs, and it will definitely matter to your wife!

Bill Kerst has been conducting educational seminars on IRAs, asset management, and trust management for over 15 years. He has served as the moderator for the Income Taxation of Estates and Trusts course offered by the Arkansas Society of CPA’s and provided many seminars to civic and church groups in the community. For more information, call 501-520-3660.