Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ask a Lawyer - Why Should I Retain an Attorney to Help with My Will or Trust?

This is a common question and has multiple layers to it.  To give a complete answer, I will break it out into three questions, and answer the latter two parts in future posts:

1.  What is "estate planning" and why should I have an estate plan (a/k/a, isn't that just for the "rich")?

2.  Why do I need a Will, and what happens if I die without a Will?

3.  Even if I need a Will, why shouldn't I just do it myself, or order one off a website?

Appropriately answering number 1 first, an estate plan is really the process of considering what will happen when you die or are incapacitated.  This involves financial considerations, such as how your assets will be distributed, via wills, trusts, probate, and other non-probate assets such as life insurance; who will inherit family heirlooms; how taxes, debts, and expenses will be handled; and who will direct your affairs.  It also involves personal, family considerations, such as who will take care of your kids (guardianship), how and when will your kids receive their inheritance, and how will your spouse be supported.

If you don't come up with a plan of your own, your state and federal government has a default plan for you.  Since you didn't write down your wishes in an estate plan document, the state, via the courts, will have no way of knowing what you would have wanted to happen.  I'll elaborate on this in the second post in this series.

If you are incapacitated and do not have Powers of Attorney for Healthcare or Property, a Living Will, or other similar documents, you will lose your opportunity to communicate your wishes for handling that situation, both in terms of providing guidance for what to do, and also for who should act on your behalf. For a statement of Illinois law on "advance directives," such as Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, etc, see this page provided by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

An estate plan is an important consideration for ANYONE, because it is appropriate for EVERYONE to contemplate what will happen when we leave this world behind (as we all will).  What will happen to your loved ones when you are gone?  What can you do today to help provide for their needs?

I will get to the reasons why you should consider asking a lawyer to help you with your estate plan (and obviously I believe strongly in the value of the estate planning lawyer) in the subsequent posts in this series.


  1. A will that is not done with legal supervision can be categorized as not a “self-proving” will. In order for it to be proven, the signatory will be track down. And it will be troublesome if the witnesses are nowhere to be found. You have to track them down, which means this would cost you more compared to hiring a new attorney in order to help you with your will.
    @Mike Clark

  2. I didn't know that states have a default plan for people who die without a will! That would definitely be frustrating--like you said, they have to make a decision not knowing what you would've wanted. I feel like a lot of people plan on writing a will or estate plan, but they never get around to it. It definitely seems like having an attorney is the best way to make sure you get a will and that it's carried out. Thanks for the post!