Do you have a will? If not, you’re like most Americans. A Gallup poll from 2016 found that only 44 percent of people have a written plan for how to divide up their estate after they die. That’s a drop of 7 percentage points from when the question was asked in 2008. People who are older and wealthier are more likely to have a written will, although education levels also play a part. In most cases, though, you can’t just write down your wishes on a random piece of paper and call it a day. Here are three reasons to hire a probate lawyer to help you out.
You Expect a Fight After You Die
In a perfect world, your family would come together peacefully at your deathbed to help send you off. But that’s not the world a lot of people live in. Family estrangement is more common than many of us would like to admit, and it happens for a variety of reasons. Maybe two of your children got into a huge fight as teenagers and never really made up in the ensuing decades. A qualified probate lawyer can help you write your will in a way that makes it less likely to be successfully contested.
Family members contest wills for a few reasons. Some people do it because they think their relative was unduly pressured into signing over the majority of an estate. For instance, adult children can be suspicious if parents remarry later in life, especially if they marry someone a lot younger or a lot poorer. That may lead the children to conclude that the second spouse is only after money, and before long, they’re filing to contest the will. You want to be sure that your intentions are crystal clear, and a probate attorney can help you do that.
You Want to Insert an Unusual Condition
Let’s say everyone in your family gets along, but you’re concerned that one of your children will abandon a white-collar career to go backpacking in Europe after you die. Or maybe your daughter has a boyfriend that you’ve never really trusted, and you want to make her inheritance dependent on her not marrying the boyfriend. Can you do that?
That depends on a few different factors, including where you live and how you want to phrase things. Talk to a probate lawyer to find out how doable your special condition really is. But you should know that you lose most of the control when you die, and using a will to do something like try to prevent a marriage is almost always an overreach. You can’t violate someone’s freedom of expression, even if you’re leaving them a lot of money or property.
You’re Worried About Estate Taxes
Politicians love to talk about estate taxes. Some of them even refer to it as the “death tax,” as if the government is out there handing tax bills to corpses. The reality is a little different. One study found that more than 98 percent of estates don’t owe anything in taxes. That means there’s only a 1 in 50 chance that you need to worry about your descendants owing taxes on your estate. Even that number might not be accurate anymore, thanks to estate tax changes passed in late 2017.
That said, if you have enough money to even come close to paying an estate tax, you definitely need a probate attorney to help you draft your will. You’ll see a lot of online marketing for legal firms, and make sure to pay close attention to what the legal firms are willing to offer.