Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Dec 12, 2019

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Estate planning attorneys are specially educated and trained to draft wills in accordance with a particular state’s laws. With the bombardment of ads from companies offering do-it-yourself wills, many people wonder whether it is actually necessary to hire an attorney. For some families, a do-it-yourself will may suffice, but for most people an attorney should be consulted. Whether hiring an attorney is the right approach to creating a will depends on a number of factors such as assets, business ownership, medical matters, or whether children are involved.

Amount of Assets

While every state is different, all states have a minimum asset requirement for probate. So, if the family member has already given away all of their assets, especially cars and homes, or has been living in an assisted living home for some time, it is unlikely that their total assets will be sufficient for probate. What this means is the only likely items that require attention are personal items that can be divided between immediate family members according to the person’s written wishes.

On the other hand, if the person still owns a home or an expensive car, the estate will be required to enter probate. In order for the probate process to be smooth, the will must meet the state’s specific legal drafting requirements and the best person to ensure that happens is an estate planning professional.

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Business and Portfolio

Owning or participating in a joint business is a complex process. Even more complex is distributing business assets or transferring ownership once the original owner is deceased. While some businessmen will specify in their business filings what course of action should be taken should the owner die, many businesses lack that guidance. In order to accurately dispose of a business through a will and make sure that the person’s intent is honored, there are very specific legal phrases that must be present. The best source for this information is an attorney.

Additionally, both businesses and investment portfolios require specific paperwork to be drafted and submitted for distribution. While a responsible family member could assist in acquiring and completing the paperwork once the person is deceased, an estate planning attorney can also be of great assistance. An attorney will have all the necessary documentation on file with the various investment agencies and any necessary paperwork accessible in the same location as the will, making the transition smoother for the family.

Other Matters

It’s a common misconception that wills attorneys only draft legal documents for asset distribution. In fact, estate planning lawyers also help clients determine burial wishes and, if necessary, draft powers of attorney and medical care wishes. One decision that many families have difficulty with once someone passes away is determining their wishes regarding their remains. By having this specifically drafted into the will, those issues are addressed.

Additionally, legal and medical documents differ from state to state, so forms obtained from national websites cannot guarantee accuracy or acceptance by the courts. An estate planning lawyer will know the specific state requirements and which of these documents is necessary to ensure all the client’s wishes are met.

Children

Estate planning is not just for the elderly. Many young families neglect this important process not realizing that they must put guardianship decisions into writing to ensure proper care is taken of their children. While these documents can be drafted by parents, there are more complicated issues than simply naming a guardian that may need to be considered including a trust for the care of the children. Additionally, it may be necessary to name one guardian for the care of the children and another for future assets that will be given to the children. These more complicated issues should always be handled by an attorney to ensure that in the event that something does happen, any concerns regarding minor children are met.

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When a DIY Will Works

Not everyone needs to hire an estate planning attorney, just like not everyone needs to hire a divorce attorney. If someone wants to draft their own will and they are educated and capable of conducting research, they can write their own will. Additionally, if someone rents their home and car and only has a small bank account, there is no reason to have an attorney draft their will as this person has few assets. Finally, if all assets are locked into 401(k)s and other private accounts that utilize a beneficiary, a will of any kind is not necessary, instead the person can create a simple list with account information.

Hiring an estate planning attorney is a serious and expensive decision. However, when a person has complex assets, the guidance a well-drafted will offers is generally worth the money.