What is the Purpose of an Estate Planning Attorney?

When you think of an estate planning attorney, your mind likely jumps to the drafting of a will. While it is true that estate planning attorneys draft wills, their responsibilities are much broader in scope. Aside from advising clients about how to plan the distribution of their assets, estate planning attorneys also offer advice to a decedent’s personal representatives and estate beneficiaries.  He’ll provide unique insight on how to properly resolve the decedent’s affairs. These matters are typically referred to as the probate process.

Wills and Trusts

When crafting a will for a client, an estate planning attorney will offer valuable advice regarding the tax ramifications of the client’s desired arrangements. Once the client considers the estate planning attorney’s advice, he will modify the disposition of his properties and assets in a more economically efficient manner. If a will is not written with the proper language, there is the possibility that the decedent’s assets will not be distributed as he instructed.

Each jurisdiction has unique rules about the disposition of property. These rules carry significant tax consequences for the client and his benefactors. The attorney must write wills with carefully crafted language that minimizes the amount of tax dollars  paid to the government, while maximizing the money that is to be distributed to the benefactors.

Along with writing wills, estate planning attorneys will also establish trusts on behalf of the client. Some trusts are straightforward while others are more complex. Many clients will benefit from a testamentary trust. This style of trust contains stipulations designed to release money to benefactors at a certain point in time for specifically identified purposes. For example, an estate planning attorney can establish a testamentary trust for a client who desires that her grandchild receives money that is to be used toward college expenses.  The release of this money is conditional on his successful completion of high school and his enrollment in college.

Managing the Probate Process

The probate process requires an estate planning attorney’s knowledge of complex inheritance and tax laws. Estate planning attorneys re-title assets to beneficiaries, coordinate the collection of life insurance, resolve income tax issues, identify and securing the decedent’s assets, determine the value of any properties owned by the decedent and calculate and pay the decedent’s remaining bills. He’ll also calculate and pay both gift and real estate taxes and offer advice regarding the sale of estate property.

Formalities

Aside from the rather complex issues listed above, estate planning attorneys also handle much more simple matters. He’ll be charged with filing documents required by the probate court and requesting court permission for various actions.  He’ll also manage client retirement accounts as well as the estate checking account.

Conflict Resolution

Oftentimes, disputes arise between beneficiaries and personal representatives of the decedent. The estate planning attorney is responsible to act as a mediator between the parties and settle the conflict to the satisfaction of both parties. These are delicate matters that require both the client and his beneficiaries to place a high level of trust in the estate planning attorney.