It is easy to be lured by advertisements claiming you can save time and money by drafting your own Will using “do-it-yourself” software or “fill-in-the-blank” Will kits. It is unlikely that these systems will generate a suitable Will that accomplishes all your objectives. Only a qualified lawyer can interpret the maze of laws bearing on property rights, taxes, wills, probate, and trusts.
On the other hand, you can save your time and money by preparing thoroughly for a meeting with your estate planning lawyer. You can organize your information regarding assets, liabilities, and title arrangements, and discuss your feelings about providing for various family members. You should gather important documents such as previous wills or trusts, powers-of-attorney, life insurance policies, employment benefits, and prenuptial agreements or divorce decrees.
Not every state has a program requiring or allowing attorneys to designate a specialty area of practice, so you should inquire about the level of experience and qualifications in the specific estate planning area when selecting an attorney. Membership in certain Bar organizations often indicates a level of dedication to the estate planning field and a commitment to keeping abreast of the law. Most importantly, you should choose an attorney in whom you have confidence, either through recommendations from friends or your other professional advisors. You may also wish to interview more than one attorney. Remember, the advice and direction of your attorney will be essential in implementing an estate plan that both disposes of your assets according to your wishes and meets your other personal objectives.
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Michael L. Cahill is an attorney and certified public accountant providing estate planning, probate and tax services in the St. Petersburg, Seminole, Largo, Clearwater and Florida gulf beach communities.