These three simple steps will help you save on both legal fees and taxes…if you start now. They’ll also help you get your documents organized and stay organized. Follow these steps and learn how to pay your estate planning lawyer less.
1. Know what result you want
First, know what you want — not what legal document you think you want. You wouldn’t say, “Doc, I’d like a triple heart bypass.” Know what result you want.
2. Organize your documents
Second, organize your personal and property records and keep them organized, whether you use a three-ring binder or an expandable file.
What do you have? In what name or names do you hold it?
- the deed for your home and any other real estate;
- vehicle, RV and boat titles;
- life, health and other insurance policies;
- promissory notes for debts you owe or which are owed you;
- credit card agreements;
- the signature cards for and amounts in your bank accounts;
- your Social Security retirement benefits (expected or received);
- your company pension plan;
- your 401(k) or similar plan and the most recent quarterly statement;
- your IRAs and the most recent quarterly statements;
- and ownership and financial records of any oil-and-gas lease,
- partnership or company in which you have an interest and, of course,
- your most recent tax returns, preferably for the past seven years.
If you’ve been in the military, keep your discharge record.
Keep your marriage certificate and any divorce decree.
If you weren’t born here, keep your naturalization certificate. If you were, keep your birth certificate.
The biggest waste of your money in preparing a Will or a Trust is your not getting the documents together, not putting them in some sort of order, not reading them to see whether accounts and property are in the right name and name the beneficiary you want. Only when this is done can your estate planning lawyer begin to work with you to achieve the result you want.*
It may take a few drafts of a Will or Trust for you and your spouse to agree. You will definitely want to review and may want to revise these and other documents every few years. Your situation, your needs and your ideas will change. The law will change. But that’s all part of the conversation. That’s where your estate planning lawyer is valuable: not nagging you to track down documents or rifling through a big open file you brought in.
3. Keep your documents where people can find them
Third, keep your Powers of Attorney, Will and any Trust documents where people can find them. A lost Power of Attorney or Will cannot carry out your wishes. It can only lead to disputes or to higher costs in settling your affairs.
Once your documents are in order and you have a legally sufficient Will which provides for an independent administration and no bond, it’s just a matter of a brief court appearance and filling out forms. Of course, it may take a law degree and some experience to understand how to complete and file the forms.
Best of all, to save on both legal fees and taxes, start now. The earlier you start, the more you can do. “Just in time” planning is not planning: it’s putting out a fire. Doing this when you are under stress, have trouble remembering things and may not have time to fully consider your alternatives is a poor “solution”.
There’s always something you can do. But it may be painful to think how much more your estate planning lawyer could have done for you 10 or 5 or maybe even 2 years ago.
So get organized and stay organized. You’ll pay yourself well for the time you spend by having to pay your estate planning lawyer less.
For more information, visit: Texas Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning.
It’s never too early to plan for your future. Schedule a consultation.
*Organizing your stuff, as opposed to your documents, can be made easier with a video camera and an inventory list from www.FEMA.org or www.knowyourstuff.org This can make life easier if you have an insurance claim or if you want to leave someone something specific.