It is not uncommon for the attorneys at GRIFFITH LAW GROUP LLC to review an estate plan built by the client or an uninformed attorney using the wrong tools for that particular client. People are increasingly turning to pre-printed wills and trusts, or using self-service legal document websites to create estate plans. Unfortunately, those well-intended people are often picking wills, when they need trusts, or vice versa. The problem begins when the client fails to consult with a knowledgeable attorney first to identify estate planning goals and needs. Only then can the attorney and client decide whether a will or trust would be more beneficial.
When discussing estate plans, it is important to remember that everyone is unique. We have different ages, incomes, wealth, families, health issues, goals, etc. When a knowledgeable attorney creates an estate plan, he does so only after spending time with the client exploring all the variables and the mechanisms to address each variable. Sound estate planning is a process. Nonetheless, here are some basic concepts about wills and trusts.
A will is a legal instrument, executed with certain formalities, that typically directs the disposition of a person’s property at death. The advantages of a will are generally that wills are easily changed, easily revoked and are great for younger people who are still buying and selling assets, who will make changes over the years and who might need to create testamentary trusts or pick guardians for minor children.
A trust is a fiduciary relationship in which a trustee holds legal title to specific property under a fiduciary duty to manage, invest, safeguard, and administer the trust assets and income for the benefit of designated beneficiaries, who hold equitable title. The advantages of a trust are that we can avoid the slow, frustrating and expensive probate process. Trusts generally are preferred by older people who do not intend to alter their asset portfolio, who want privacy and who want to leave specific items or sums of money for specific persons.
Wills and trusts are not the only documents we consider when creating an estate plan for our clients. In future articles, we will explore these other important tools we routinely use:
- Living Will
- Health Care Power of Attorney
- Power of Attorney
- Life Insurance
- Beneficiary Designations
- Gifting Programs
- Asset Protection
Whether you want to utilize a self-help legal document website service or prefer to have a knowledgeable attorney craft an appropriate estate tailored for you and your family, every client deserves to have the confidence of knowing an attorney participated in the process of identifying estate planning goals, challenges, tools and opportunities. Without the help of a good lawyer, clients assume the risk that their estate plan will not further their estate planning goals or, worse yet, cause harm to the client or family members.