Attorney explains the truth of three estate planning myths

Michele Ungvarsky of Estrada Law is an estate planning attorney. She can be reached at 556-2462.
Michele Ungvarsky of Estrada Law is an estate planning attorney. She can be reached at 556-2462.
Estate planning attorneys eat, sleep, and breathe estate planning and see virtually every kind of situation unfold. Individuals who have taken the time to create a solid estate plan nearly always fare better than those who do not. Still, there are a whole lot of myths and misunderstandings that stop people from making the choice to protect their futures with an estate planning attorney’s assistance.

It is important to tackle these myths head-on and to expose those that just aren’t true.

T or F: Estate plans are just for those with lots of assets.
The answer is false. So many people end up unknowingly damaging their estates and hurting their heirs because they just don’t think they have “enough stuff ” to justify an estate plan. This myth absolutely needs to be discredited! As long as you own something, there will be a legal process to determine what to do with it after you die. This process (probate) is not only long and drawn out, but it also costs money! Those precious few assets could actually end up being sold to pay for probate and taxes instead of being passed on to your loved ones. Fortunately, working with an estate planning attorney ahead of time allows you the opportunity to protect your assets using whatever tools are appropriate for your situation.

The primary documents everybody should have include: a will, durable power of attorney, and a health care proxy.

T or F: You don’t need an estate plan as long as your family knows your wishes.
The answer is false. There are a couple of problems that estate planning attorneys encounter with this line of thinking. First and probably most important, is that just because you and/or your family wants things to happen in a certain way, there’s no guarantee they will. Instead of your loved ones following your wishes, they will be forced to follow the laws of the state — even if these go completely against what you wanted. Additionally, everyone experiences grief differently, and even though your child or other loved one knows your preferences, he or she may find ways to subvert them for their own gain. The best way to avoid both of these kinds of drama is to work with an estate planning attorney who knows how to ensure that things go the way you want as a matter of law.

T or F: Trust funds are for more than passing on the money.
The answer is true. While we may have certain ideas about trust funds from gossip and Hollywood, a whole lot of people aren’t clear on what trusts can really do. For example, your estate planning attorney can help you set up a trust to limit the taxes your estate (and heirs) will have to pay later. They also provide you with a significant say in how your heirs are able to use the money — do you want them to have free rein, to pay for an education, delay the time they get the money, or to give the money to charity? These are just some of the ways trusts are often used.

Even if you don’t have many assets, a skilled estate planning attorney can help you create a roadmap that will be followed by both the courts and those you’ve left behind. From avoiding probate and excessive taxes to ensuring that your grandkids go to college, working with an estate planning attorney is the first step in protecting what you have worked so hard and long for.