While there are a variety of reasons why people decide to meet with an estate planning attorney and create an estate plan, I have found the reasons listed below to be the top five.
Avoiding probate is by far the most common reason why people seek out the advice of an estate planning attorney. While many have never even dealt with probate, they still know one thing - they want to avoid it at all costs. This stems from probate horror stories covered by the media or told by neighbors, friends or business associates. Suffice it to say that for the vast majority of people, avoiding probate is a very good reason for creating an estate plan and can be easily achieved.
Reducing Estate Taxes
The significant loss of one's estate to the payment of state and/or federal estate taxes or state inheritance taxes is a great motivator for many people to put an estate plan together. Through the most basic planning, married couples can reduce or even possibly eliminate estate taxes altogether by setting up AB Trusts or ABC Trusts as part of their wills or revocable living trusts. In addition, a variety of advanced estate planning techniques can be used by both married couples and individuals to make the estate or inheritance tax bill less burdensome or completely go away.
Avoiding a Mess
Many clients seek the advice of an estate planning attorney after personally experiencing, or seeing a close friend or business associate experience, a significant waste of time and money due to a loved one's failure to make an estate plan. Choosing someone to be in charge if you become mentally incapacitated and after you die and deciding who will get what, when they will get it, and how they will get it after you're gone will go a long way towards avoiding family fights and costly probate court proceedings.
There are generally two main reasons why people put together an estate plan in order to protect their beneficiaries: (a) Protecting minor beneficiaries, and/or (b) Protecting adult beneficiaries from bad decisions, outside influences, creditor problems and divorcing spouses. If the beneficiary is a minor, all 50 states have laws that require a guardian or conservator to be appointed to oversee the minor's needs and finances until the minor becomes a legal adult (at age 18 or 21, depending upon the laws of the state where the minor lives). You can prevent family discord and costly legal expenses by taking the time to designate a guardian and trustee for your minor beneficiaries. Or, if the beneficiary is already an adult but is bad at managing money or has an overbearing spouse or partner who you fear will squander the beneficiary's inheritance or take it in a divorce, then you can create an estate plan that will protect the beneficiary from their own bad decisions as well as those of others.
Protecting Assets from Unforeseen Creditors
Lately asset protection planning has become a very important reason why many people, including those who already have an estate plan, are meeting with their estate planning attorney. Once you know or even just suspect that a lawsuit is on the horizon, it's too late to put a plan in place to protect your assets. Instead, you need to start with a sound financial plan and couple that with a comprehensive estate plan that will in turn protect your assets for the benefit of both you during your lifetime and your beneficiaries after your death. You can also provide asset protection for your spouse through the use of AB Trusts or ABC Trusts and your other beneficiaries through the use of lifetime trusts.