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  • Northern Virginia Trusts & Estates

​The Difference between Financial Planners and Estate Planning Attorneys

Many people confuse the terms “financial planner” and “estate planning attorney.” To be clear, estate planning can ​only ​ be done by an experienced estate planning attorney. Financial planners, financial advisors and other financial professionals may have input prior to your visiting with an estate planning attorney. These professionals help you with your financial planning issues such as what you need to save, the difference in stocks vs. bonds, and how to make sure your retirement fund will actually meet your retirement needs. Financial planners can help you look at your overall financial situation and make the changes you need to make in order to provide for family members or plan for your retirement.

Don’t Stop After Speaking to a Financial Planner

Unfortunately, many people think they are done after speaking to a financial professional, and fail to take the necessary steps to actually ​plan ​ their estate. If you speak to a financial planner and fail to take the next step of visiting with an experienced Virginia attorney who specializes in estate planning, you will have left extremely important issues undone. Estate planning is comprised of a set of legal documents such as wills, trusts, POA’s, and healthcare proxies. There are three objectives when planning your estate. You want to designate who is in control of your assets while you are alive, who will benefit from your assets, and when those people will benefit. (While you are living, after your death?)

If your estate planning consists only of a will, then you will remain in control of your assets until your death. Who benefits from your assets will be controlled by your will, which will likely have to go through probate. In your will you will designate an executor, who is a person you trust to ensure your wishes are properly carried out. If your estate planning contains a revocable living trust, you may choose someone else to handle your financial affairs both while you are alive and after your death. Estate planning can also dictate who would handle your affairs if you became disabled. So, while estate planning can benefit those you plan to leave your assets to, it can also benefit you.

The Benefits of Speaking to an Estate Planning Attorney

A skilled estate planning attorney can look at every possible scenario, and create a contingency plan should any of those occur. Suppose you die and your spouse goes into a nursing home—who would be in charge of your assets? In short, estate planning is all about providing for the control of your assets while making sure those you want to benefit from your hard work actually do so. Far too many people have the mindset that “my family knows what I want.” While it is possible that your family ​does ​ , in fact, know what you want, there are so many variables which exist in life that telling your family your wishes is simply not sufficient.

It is extremely rare that your wishes for the distribution of your assets and personal items will actually go the way you want when you are not there to guide it and fail to leave concrete instructions. In the best-case scenario, you will have a financial planner and an estate planning attorney who can work together to ensure you are taken care of while alive and your loved ones are taken care of after your death. There are several issues which will be addressed, such as:

  1. Making sure that you and your spouse are properly using a credit shelter trust if your assets exceed the estate death tax exclusion amount;

  2. Avoiding unnecessary probate costs. Experts estimate the average U.S. probate cost is a whopping six percent of the gross estate—regardless of liabilities;

  3. Ensuring the retirement accounts of you and your spouse are properly titled with a secondary beneficiary, and

  4. Addressing assets in other states.

Make sure your future and that of your loved ones is secured by discussing your estate planning needs with an ​experienced Virginia estate planning attorney.

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