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Estate planning is tailored to the individual's circumstances

In West Virginia and everywhere else, estate planning may generally be viewed as a strategy to protect assets, pay expenses and bills, and to distribute the remainder to those heirs chosen to receive. Therefore, when preparing to meet with an estate planning attorney to go over the preparation of a plan, one of the first things to do is to work out in advance who are the heirs who will inherit the estate's assets. Since these choices will necessarily be very personal, it will be an unproductive use of time to work such matters out in the attorney's office.

It is then necessary to meet with an experienced estate attorney to do the nuts and bolts work to put together the plan and construct the applicable documents. When one hears rumors that these documents can be easily copied and filled out on the internet, that is an enticing but unrealistic and possibly damaging alternative. The field of estate planning is complex enough to dissuade people from the dangers of trying to get it done free and taking the risk of potentially disastrous mistakes.

The attorney will go over the use and value of the various documents with the client. The recommendations of the attorney will be based on the individual's own circumstances and the legal principles that may be applicable. In many cases, the client will be faced with a choice of making a will or using a revocable living trust.

The trust is often a nice alternative because it offers a way to avoid the long, drawn-out and sometimes expensive probate procedure that is necessary when a will has been made. However, the ultimate choice may depend on certain preferences or legal opportunities that will favor one choice over the other. By the time all of the information is shared and evaluated, the attorney will generally guide the estate planning client through the best plan that is compliant with West Virginia law and personally tailored for his or her situation.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "5 essential steps of estate planning", Terry Savage, May 8, 2017

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