What Kind of Lawyer Do I Need to Make a Will?

By Belle Wong

What Kind of Lawyer Do I Need to Make a Will?

By Belle Wong

An estate planning attorney can help you draft your will. Making a will does not have to be a complicated process, but while there are do-it-yourself options available online, there may be times when it's a good idea to retain the services of a professional. If the terms of your proposed will are more complex and you're finding that a basic will template isn't sufficient for your needs, it's probably time to enlist the assistance of an estate planning attorney.

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Learn how to find the right attorney for your estate planning needs.

What is Estate Planning?

A will is just one of a number of important documents that go into a comprehensive estate plan. And while a will specifically addresses the issue of what happens to your assets after your death, the estate planning process looks at other legal documents you can utilize to meet a number of estate planning objectives. These documents include:

  • Will. As mentioned above, a will sets out how you want your assets to be distributed after your death. Depending on your specific circumstances, your will may include more comprehensive and complex terms; for example, if you have children, you may want to set up a trust to hold their inheritance funds after your death.
  • Appointment of a guardian. If you have minor children, it's essential that you appoint a guardian who will care for your children should anything happen to you. This appointment can be done within a will, or it can be in the form of a separate legal document on its own.
  • Financial power of attorney. This important document gives the person you appoint as your agent (known as an attorney-in-fact) the power to make financial decisions for you in the event you become incapacitated and can no longer make those decisions yourself. A basic financial power of attorney will terminate on your death, after which point your executor will have charge of financial decisions related to your estate, but you can also extend this power of attorney post-death by making it a durable power of attorney.
  • Medical power of attorney. Also known as an advanced medical directive, this important estate planning document appoints an individual to make medical decisions on your behalf should you become physically or mentally incapacitated.
  • Living will. By using a living will, you can provide instructions for your physician that state your wishes concerning end-of-life care in the event you become terminally ill or fall into a vegetative state. Your loved ones also benefit from your living will, as they will not be burdened with the difficult decision of whether or not to withdraw critical life support in the event of your terminal illness.
  • Living trust. Unlike a trust that's set up in your will, a living trust is a trust you set up during your lifetime. The living trust can be an invaluable part of estate planning because it governs how the assets it holds will be used not only while you're alive, but also in the event of either your death or your incapacitation. In addition to potential tax benefits, such a trust provides your beneficiaries with more privacy and helps avoid probate costs.

What Is the Role of Your Estate Planning Attorney?

An estate planning attorney can be invaluable when it comes to drafting your will. Because of their experience in matters specifically related to the estate planning process, an estate planning attorney can also advise you regarding any potential problems that may arise due to the specific nature of your bequests.

For example, if you wish to leave one of your children a greater amount than your other children, it's important to draft this clearly in your will; any ambiguity in the terms of your will enables disappointed heirs to challenge your will's validity. And if you wish to establish trusts to hold your beneficiaries' inheritances, the services of an experienced estate planning attorney will help to ensure that the terms of the trusts will work out the way you intended.

Finally, an estate planning attorney can help you assess your need for any of the other components of estate planning. Whether it's adding powers of attorney to your estate plan or assisting you in appointing a guardian for your children, an attorney with experience in the wide field of estate planning will be able to guide you to the legal documents that may form an essential part of your estate plan.

How to Choose an Estate Planning Attorney

Once you've determined your need for an experienced attorney who can help you draft your will and possibly implement other components of your estate plan, your next step is to find the right attorney for your needs.

Obtain referrals. While your friends and family may have retained attorneys in the past to help them with their wills, it's always a good idea to obtain recommendations from the other professional advisors in your life. For example, financial planners, accountants, and attorneys who don't specialize in estate planning will generally be able to recommend the names of estate planning lawyers whose competence they trust.

Check local or state bar associations. Local and state bar associations maintain lists of attorneys' practice areas. These lists come in handy not only for finding the names and contact information of experienced estate planning attorneys but also to check to see if an attorney you've come across, either in ads or online, or through family or a friend, practices in the estate planning field.

Book a consultation. Most attorneys offer a free consultation, and estate planning lawyers are no exception. Once you've narrowed your list of potential attorneys, you can use this initial consultation to find an attorney you feel comfortable working with.

Retaining the assistance of an estate planning attorney can be invaluable if you find yourself in need of a will that goes beyond the terms of a simple, basic will. The right attorney will not only help you draft a valid will that can stand up to any potential challenges, but they can also guide you in the preparation of a comprehensive estate plan.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.