First, where should you go to do your Estate Planning? The answer is simple, an attorney who focuses his practice in Estate Planning (or the related areas of Elder Law and Taxation). Estate Planning is far too intricate to rely on a general practitioner. You certainly don’t want to rely on an attorney who does multiple practice areas like patent law, corporate law, and personal injury law.
Next, Estate Planning laws and strategies change frequently, so you want an attorney who stays current on the latest developments. The minimum requirement for Continuing Legal Education (“CLE”) in many states is 12 hours per year and that could be in any area. In fact, some states have no CLE requirement whatsoever. On the other hand, some organizations or certifications require more than the typical CLE and require it to be focused in Estate Planning or related fields. For example, the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys requires us to have 36 hours of CLE focused in Estate Planning and related fields of Elder Law and Taxation. Only an attorney focused on Estate Planning has the know-how you need to achieve your goals.
Some people think they are saving money by using software or forms they find online. However, they don’t know everything the attorney has learned by focusing his practice on Estate Planning. For example, do you know the difference between a “per stirpes” and a “per capita” distribution or when a Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax applies? There are numerous pitfalls which lie in wait for the unwary attempting to draft their own Estate Plans. If you needed brain surgery, you wouldn’t go to your general practitioner to do it, nor would you attempt to do it on yourself. Similarly, you should not try to do your own Estate Planning.
The other question related to “where” is what do you do when you move from one location to another? If the estate plan you created was legal and valid in the state where you created it, it is legal in your new state. Typically, you should review your Estate Plan periodically for changes in your circumstances, assets, and goals. However, if you move from one state to another, you’d want to review your plan in that new state as soon as you move. Some of the laws could be different from one state to another. This is the case even if you’ve only moved across the state line. For example, your new state might have community property whereas your old state did not. There could be differences in other laws, as well. So, when you move, you should review your Estate Plan with a qualified Estate Planning attorney in your new state.
Future articles in this series will address other questions about Estate Planning. If you would like a personal consultation with one of the attorneys at Gaughan & Connealy Estate Planning Attorneys, call us at (913) 262-2000.