Many people think that “estate planning” is really just hiring a lawyer or downloading a program off the internet (which I do not suggest) to draft a Last Will and Testament. However, it’s more complicated than that. A good estate planning attorney will have you complete a questionnaire giving him/her information on your family tree, assets and liabilities in order to help see the bigger picture. That estate planning lawyer will discuss your goals/objectives and how to best accomplish them.
Not only will the estate planning lawyer look at what property is held but how it is held (e.g., individual name, business/corporation/partnership/trust name, joint tenants with rights of survivorship, tenancy in common). Furthermore, an estate planning attorney will also look at whether the client lived or obtained property in a community property state and the client’s insurance program (e.g., life insurance). Keeping in mind the client’s objectives (e.g., avoid the estate/death tax, pass the farming operation to children/grandchildren), the estate planning lawyer will help guide the client through the myriad of options available to them to crystalize the best “game plan” at that point in time.
Will you likely leave the estate planning process with a Last Will and Testament? Yes. But it’s not that simple. Trusts and business formations may be appropriate in your situation. There may be a need for a Power of Attorney or change in how an asset is held. Beneficiaries or limits may be changed on the life insurance policy. One of the many reasons why I hate online will drafting programs is because it gives people a false sense of security– that what they have is (1) legally valid, (2) does what they want it to do, and (3) is the best thing for them. I urge my readers to seek counsel from an estate planning lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction, particularly one that understands the unique dynamics/concerns of farm families.