Estate Planning is often misunderstood. Questions often arise regarding “where.” First, where should you go to do your Estate Planning? The answer is simple, an attorney who focuses their practice in Estate Planning (or the related areas of Estate Planning, 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 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 their practice in 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 Plan. 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 shouldn’t 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. 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 need to review your plan in that new state as soon as you move. Many 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 a whole host of other laws, as well. So, when you move, you need to 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. Below are links to prior articles in this series.
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128