I sat down with Jim McVittie of Legacy Preservation Law. He’s an attorney here in Portland who specializes in estate planning. We talked about many of the common things people don’t know or understand about the world of estate planning. He had many important things to say, and I hope you find this as helpful as I did!
Estate Planning Isn’t as Complicated as You Think
One of the reasons people frequently put off estate planning is that they think it’s too complicated and will take too much time (and money). Even though estate planning is a complicated topic, an experienced lawyer can make it pretty simple for you.
Jim breaks the estate planning process into manageable chunks so that you never feel overwhelmed or unsure of what comes next. He mentioned that when the process is over, many clients say that it wasn’t as complicated or as difficult as they thought it would be.
How to Find a Good Estate Planner
First, Jim recommends that you find an attorney who will give you an initial consultation free of charge. This is your chance to interview the attorney and determine if you’ll work well together. It’s also the time to ask a lot of questions about the process and how your particular situation should be handled.
Also, make sure you’re working with an attorney who actually knows estate planning. Otherwise you may not be getting the advice that works best for your situation. Estate planning requires specialized knowledge and education, so you should stick to someone who does it every single day.
Why You Shouldn’t Just Make a Will Online
These days you can do just about anything online, and making a will is certainly no exception. It is a lot less expensive to fill out a will template online and call it good, so it’s understandable why people go that route.
The problem with doing that is that you don’t get any legal advice when you create a will online. When you go to an estate planner, you get legal advice that’s specific to your situation, which is invaluable for making sure your estate is handled the way you want it to be.
If you’re creating a will online, you have to just hope that it does what you actually want it to when the time comes. After all, you don’t actually know specifics about how the law will be applied in your situation.
For instance, you can end up paying thousands of dollars in estate tax that could have been avoided if you had gone to an estate planner. In Oregon, for instance, the estate tax threshold applies if you have just a million dollars in assets—including your home, retirement, savings, and life insurance. An estate planner can help you avoid unnecessary estate taxes on those assets.
An estate planner can also help you protect your assets on behalf of those who will inherit money from you. With proper planning, you can protect your assets from children’s spouses in the case of divorce and children’s creditors.
You May Need a Revocable Living Trust
In many cases, you’ll want to create a revocable living trust in addition to a will. A will does not avoid probate court. In fact, a will is, as Jim says, your ticket into probate court, a process where the validity of your will is proven. Probate court usually takes around a year in our jurisdiction, meaning it will be some time before any assets can be given out.
A living trust means that your estate can avoid the lengthy and expensive probate process, making things much easier for your executor and for those who are inheriting from your estate.
A living trust can also help you while you’re alive by designating someone who can act for you in the event that you’re incapacitated. You’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that a person you trust is making medical decisions for you, paying your bills, and handling your finances—all without a court having to grant someone the authority to do so.
If You Need Help with Estate Planning
If you’re in Oregon or Washington and need help with estate planning, give Jim’s office a call! He’s licensed in both states, and much of the work can be done remotely. We really appreciate Jim for sharing his expertise with us.