Estate planning attorneys, also referred to as estate law attorneys or probate attorneys, are experienced and licensed law professionals with a thorough understanding of the state and federal laws that affect how your estate will be inventoried, valued, dispersed, and taxed after your death. In addition to educating you about the probate process, an estate planning attorney can assist you with the following tasks:
- Creating a will
- Designating your beneficiaries
- Establishing durable power of attorney and medical durable power of attorney
- Finding ways to reduce and avoid estate tax when possible
- Finding ways to avoid the probate court process
- Setting up any trusts you might need to protect your assets, both for your own benefit during your lifetime in the event of incapacity, and for the benefit of your beneficiaries after your death
Estate planning attorneys often charge a flat fee to help you craft binding legal documents such as wills and durable power of attorney, but they can also be employed on an hourly basis to help you maintain your estate, act on your behalf to handle disputes when called upon, and ensure that your will is carried out according to plan when required.
An estate planning attorney can also be called upon to guide anyone with power of attorney over a recently deceased person's estate through the process of probate court. In fact, a good estate planning attorney may be able to help you avoid probate court altogether, but that largely depends on the type of assets in the deceased's estate and how they are legally allowed to be transferred.
In the event that a beneficiary (or even an individual not designated as a beneficiary) announces that he or she plans to contest the will and sue the estate of a deceased family member or loved one that you also stand to benefit from, it might be in your best interest to consult an estate planning attorney immediately. Such lawsuits can quickly drain the estate's funds and leave all beneficiaries a little worse for the wear.
You may be surprised to learn that over 99% of estates will not owe any federal estate tax, according to a 2018 report by the Tax Policy Center. Only estates with combined gross assets and prior taxable gifts valued at $11,400,000 or more are required to file, as of 2019. It is important to note that smaller estates that are exempt from federal estate tax may not be exempt from estate taxes in some states.