The Only Field of Law Everyone Needs
BY JACOB A. HALE
The handy thing about an estate planning practice is that it may be the only area of the law that applies to everyone. What I mean is, you can avoid criminal lawyers by staying on this side of the law; you can avoid family lawyers by staying married or staying single; and you can avoid tax lawyers by staying unemployed. Avoiding lawyers was the national pastime long before nine guys with mustaches trotted out onto a diamond for the first time. There is no doubt that avoiding lawyers is healthy and reasonable, but I would submit to you that an estate planning attorney has the potential of providing valuable and essential assistance to every person, regardless of financial or family circumstances.
Barring any major Biblical occurrences, nuclear launch parties or serious medical breakthroughs, we are all destined to live a certain amount of time, accumulate modest or extravagant property, and then pass on to the next life leaving our friends, family and life’s work behind. The numbers don’t look good. One hundred percent of us will go the way of the doornail and half of us will experience a prolonged mental or physical disability before we do. It would all be very depressing to think about, except that we allow ourselves the small luxury of pretending that it won’t happen to us. At least not any time soon. This is the main reason why 70% of Americans pass away without an estate plan.
It isn’t just the admission of mortality that keeps people from visiting an estate planning attorney. Many people simply haven’t had the time or occasion to lift that copy of the Texas Probate Code from their coffee table and leaf through the intestacy provisions. If you are one of those people, you may be operating under incorrect assumptions about how the state will distribute your property if no will or other estate documents are in place.
Texas uses a one-size-fits-all distribution scheme that rarely fits anyone. A modern life is too complex and unique. The subtle intricacies of our family and property relationships go unnoticed by an intestacy plan created by the legislature to reflect the “average” person. And once you pass without a will, it is too late for family and friends to introduce evidence to the contrary.
Thankfully, Texas allows us the tremendous privilege of deciding who will receive our possessions when we go and under what conditions. With few exceptions, we are free to be as specific charitable, creative or ornery as we like.
So what does estate planning really entail? Modern estate planning was originally made necessary by the introduction of the federal estate tax in 1916. Consequently, the major thrust of the practice was devoted to helping wealthy families avoid this tax. During the past century, the goals of estate planning have evolved and expanded and so has the clientele.
Today, estate planning attorneys must merge the laws of wills, taxes, insurance, property, health care and trusts so as to gain the maximum benefit of all laws. A well-designed estate plan should do more than simply assign property to heirs when you die. It should also include a plan to accumulate, conserve and enjoy property while you are living.
For wills, trusts, deeds, medical and durable powers of attorney, partnership agreements, and corporation instruments, only an attorney may be necessary. But an estate planning attorney will also recommend and orchestrate a network of trusted professionals to contribute accounting, financial planning and insurance expertise.
Typically, the practice of law is reactionary. A problem occurs and a lawyer is called in to respond. Estate planning is different. It allows us to proactively uncover and avert potential problems before they arise. An effective estate plan ensures the smooth transition of the client’s personal and property affairs from working life to retirement, through times of disability, and finally into death.
So as we plunge forward into a new year, give yourself the gift of peace of mind by exploring the opportunities
that an estate planning session can provide.
Download full article (pdf)