Why paying an estate attorney is worth it

Ask NJMoneyHelp

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Q. I just turned 60 need to write a will. I checked with elder law attorneys and it’s so expensive. I need to protect my house in case I have to stay in a long-term care facility and I want to leave all my assets to my two girls. Will any lawyer be able to do that with a reasonable price?
– Need help

A. What you may consider reasonable may not be.

Working with an elder law or estate planning attorney may be one of the best investments you ever make. You need to make sure all your documents are in order, and unfortunately, it’s not a simple thing to do on your own.

By having properly prepared estate planning documents, you’re going to benefit yourself and your family or beneficiaries both emotionally and financially, said Catherine Romania, an estate planning attorney with Witman Stadtmauer in Florham Park.

She said you need at a minimum an advance health care directive, also known as a living will. This is a document that appoints an agent and provides guidelines for your agent with respect to your healthcare should you be unable to act.

You also need a power of attorney, which appoints an agent to handle your financial affairs during your lifetime.
Finally, you need a last will and testament, the document that governs the administration of your estate following your death.

“For example, if during your life you should become incapacitated without a power of attorney and/or a living will, then it is likely that a guardianship proceeding will be required to appoint a guardian to handle your financial and personal affairs,” Romania said.

She said this proceeding is generally expensive because of the appointment of an independent attorney for the alleged incapacitated person, as well as the attorney for the guardian, and the two doctors required to examine the alleged incapacitated person and prepare affidavits for the court, all of whom must be paid.

Then, the will.

When you have a will you can waive the requirement for your executor to post a bond, which is generally necessary in the case where there is no will, Romania said.

“The amount of the bond is based on the value of the probate estate and will be determined by the Surrogate,” she said. “Bond premiums can be costly and obtaining a bond from a bonding company can sometimes cause a delay in administering an estate.”

Moreover, she said, by having a will, you more likely ensure your assets are disposed of in the manner you want, and administered by the person you choose, instead of by the intestacy statute.

Romania said another aspect of being prepared is planning financially for long-term care, which you said is a concern.

This may include purchasing long-term care insurance or structuring your financial assets in order to qualify sooner for Medicaid, which is government assistance based on financial and medical need. Once again, such preparedness rewards your beneficiaries both financially and emotionally, Romania said.

“The fee charged by an experienced estate planning and/or elder law attorney to prepare for and/or reduce the risk or cost of a number of potential scenarios is likely less than the cost of a guardianship proceeding or one month of private pay in a nursing home,” Romania said.

Like we said, a good investment.

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