Where There’s a Will, There’s Not Necessarily an Estate Plan.

5 essential estate planning issues you need to address.

If you were playing a word association game and said “estate planning document,” it is likely that the most common response would be “a will.” Indeed, folks who may not have a full understanding of the universe of estate planning possibilities at least know that they should have a will. What they don’t realize is that a complete estate plan includes much more than a last will and testament.

The whole concept of estate planning is based on the desire to secure your financial future and provide protection and peace of mind for your loved ones. The reality is that a will, while a great start, is often insufficient by itself to accomplish those goals. Whether you are just starting your estate planning or are thinking about updating and enhancing your current documents, make sure that you address these five essential issues.

Incapacity Planning

A will only becomes effective after you die. Unfortunately, many of us will face the possibility that we will become severely ill, disabled, or incapacitated and not be able to make important decisions regarding our health, treatment, and financial affairs. If you haven’t addressed these issues in advance, your loved ones will be left to wonder about your wishes and what they should do, adding another layer of stress and confusion to what is already a difficult time. This is why incapacity planning is a vital part of any thorough estate plan. With an incapacity plan, including such documents as a power of attorney for health care or property, you can appoint a responsible, trustworthy person to oversee your financial and health care needs if you become unable to handle them on your own.

Probate Avoidance

Most people seek to avoid probate, and there are plenty of good reasons for this. The probate process can consume a tremendous amount of time and money, putting stress on loved ones left behind. A well-drafted estate plan can ensure that your heirs receive your bequests swiftly and without the burden of a prolonged probate process.

Retirement Planning

As human longevity increases, and people stay healthier well into their 70s, 80s, and beyond, it’s important to plan for an extended lifespan. You want to have enough money to live comfortably throughout all of your retirement years. Your estate plan should incorporate detailed retirement planning that helps you achieve this goal.

Business Succession Planning

Many business owners plan on selling their businesses as they approach their retirement and use those funds to provide for themselves and their family during their golden years. However, in a recent PwC survey of family-owned business owners, 73 percent reported not having a substantial and documented succession plan. In a family-owned business, this lack of planning can create significant conflict and damaged relationships. A business succession plan provides answers for a variety of contingencies, such as what happens if the owner becomes incapacitated. By providing clear direction, it allows the business to run as smoothly as possible in the event key leadership dies or can no longer oversee the business.

Medicaid Planning

Few people like to think about the possibility of needing Medicaid, but they ignore planning for it at their financial peril. Without proper planning, you might have to pay out-of-pocket for nursing home care. A prolonged stay at a long-term care facility can consume a lifetime’s worth of assets in a relatively short amount of time. With the right strategic planning, you can preserve your estate for your spouse and other beneficiaries.

The Law Offices of Louis R. Fine

When you are ready to start working on your estate planning or if you just have questions about how to proceed, give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form for a free initial consultation. I will work with you to create an estate plan that suits your needs, budget, and goals. While thinking about your own demise may be unpleasant, the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you have provided for your loved ones and spared them from additional grief is invaluable.

Your Choice of a Lawyer Matters. Here are Four Qualities to Look For.

I meet with new clients and potential new clients on an almost daily basis. When I do, I know that the reason they are in my office is because they have important issues that need to be addressed; issues that can have a profound impact on their career, family, and future.

I also know that the decision as to which attorney they hire to assist them is one that they don’t, and shouldn’t, take lightly. There is no question that the quality and competence of an attorney can play a significant role in the outcome of a given matter, and how that attorney approaches his practice and relationship with clients can make the difference between peace of mind and constant worry.

Based on my experience, here are some qualities you should consider if you are in the process of looking for an attorney:

  • Knowledge of the Law. It goes without saying that your lawyer should know what he’s doing, and that includes keeping up to date on new developments and approaches. The law is constantly changing; new legislation, court decisions, rules, and guidelines come out all the time. It is crucial to hire a lawyer who not only understands the law as it is but who is aware and alert to the impact of changes which may take place.
  • Experience. So much of what happens in a legal matter is not based on things that can be found in books; knowing the nuances of both the law and the reality of practice is crucial to obtaining successful results. Look for a lawyer who knows their way around the courthouse, hearing room, or conference room. Look for a layer who knows how things work, and knows how things get done. Sound judgment and insight isn’t learned at a seminar. That is something that only comes from years of experience.
  • Communication. You no doubt have many questions about your situation, what may happen next, and what the plan should be going forward. Throughout your case, you’ll want to know that when questions and concerns come up, your attorney will be there, available and ready to answer and resolve them. You also want a lawyer who will actually listen to you and who will take the time to understand your needs and goals.
  • Empathy and Trust. When you meet with a lawyer, you are not there necessarily to discuss a case or a file; you are talking about your life. You want an understanding and compassionate lawyer who you can speak to about your concerns and issues and you want to feel as if they truly care and understand what is at stake. Choose an attorney who makes you comfortable, who is trustworthy and ethical, who you feel will truly expend all necessary efforts on your behalf, and who gives you a feeling of peace of mind every time you leave his office or hang up the phone after speaking with him or her.

The attorney-client relationship is a unique and important one, and the trust you place in your lawyer is something he or she should value and work every day to earn.

“How Much is This Going to Cost Me?” – Understanding How Attorney’s Fees Work

Either you or someone you know has likely found themselves in one of these situations at some point: you’re facing a health problem and want to see a doctor, or you know it’s been way too long since you’ve been to the dentist, or that leaky roof, broken air conditioner, or sputtering car is in desperate need of repair – but you put it off or never take care of one of these vital needs because you are worried about how much it’s going to cost.

The same thing happens when people are facing a problem or issue that requires the assistance of an attorney, often for the first time in their lives. But just like the foregoing problems won’t go away on their own, and likely will only get worse, ignoring a legal problem or failing to get help because you are worried about how much a lawyer will cost you may only end up costing you more in the long run. The reality is that a lot of folks don’t understand how attorneys charge for their work; sometimes, speaking with or even retaining an attorney to handle your matter won’t cost you anything at all.

Before you make a decision as to whether or not to reach out to a lawyer for help, it is important to understand the different kinds of attorney’s fee arrangements and which one may apply to your case. Here are the most common fee arrangements:

  • Initial Consultation. The first step in your relationship with a lawyer is usually your first meeting, or initial consultation, in which you discuss your specific problems, concerns, and questions with the lawyer and explore whether or not to retain the attorney to handle your matter. While some attorneys may charge you for that first meeting at a flat rate or an hourly rate (as discussed below), many attorneys, including myself, provide for free initial consultations regardless of whether or not you choose to hire the lawyer after your meeting.
  • Contingency Fee. When you see a lawyer in a TV commercial exclaim something like “You pay nothing unless we recover damages for you,” they are speaking about a contingency fee arrangement. Primarily used in personal injury, medical malpractice, Social Security Disability, and workers’ compensation matters, this arrangement means that if the attorney fails to recover any compensation for you either through trial or settlement, you are not obligated to pay any attorney’s fees (though you may be on the hook for out of pocket costs). If you do obtain a recovery, the attorney will take a percentage of that amount (most often 33⅓%, but sometimes higher or lower depending on the law or the agreement) as their fee and also reimburse themselves for any costs incurred during the case.
  • Flat Fee. For simpler matters like preparing a basic will, a standard bankruptcy matter, or uncontested divorces, an attorney may charge a flat fee, that is, a set amount up front for completing the requested work or for particular aspects of the matter.
  • Hourly Rate. This is perhaps the most common fee arrangement, and the one used most often in litigation matters. The attorney will charge you a dollar amount for every hour of time they work on your matter. How many hours your matter will require and how much per hour the attorney may charge for their work will depend on a number of factors, such as the complexity of the matter, the attorney’s experience, and the average rate in the community in which the attorney practices.
  • Retainer Fees. A “retainer” is essentially a deposit a client gives to an attorney at the beginning of the attorney-client relationship, with the funds being drawn upon to pay the attorney’s fees as the matter proceeds. These funds are usually deposited into a client trust account only to be applied to fees incurred for that specific client’s matter. At the conclusion of the case or relationship, any unused portion of the retainer will be returned to the client.

For those who are involved in a lawsuit, it is important to understand that most of the time (unless a contract, court order, or specific statute says otherwise), the prevailing party will not recover or recoup their attorney’s fees and costs from the losing party at the conclusion of the case.

Whatever the fee arrangement, it is important that you discuss and fully understand how the attorney will bill you for their time and their work, and that a written agreement be executed clearly explaining how the fee arrangement will work. Don’t simply ignore or put off any pressing legal matters; contact an attorney to see what arrangements can be made that will allow you to address your needs.

Not So “E-Z” After All: The Perils of Using Online Wills and Estate Planning Forms

With countless websites offering do-it-yourself legal forms on the Internet, especially wills and other estate planning documents, it can certainly be tempting to simply download one of these documents, fill in some blanks, and feel like you’ve taken care of your affairs. Who needs a lawyer when you have your laptop?
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