Do I need an Attorney to settle an Estate?

With proper planning, the answer should most commonly be no.   I have always thought that the point of proper estate planning was to avoid probate, minimize legal expenses, minimize estate taxes, and minimize income taxes.  I have always believed that it is easier to avoid a problem than it is to solve one. A lot of people are confused by probate and estate taxes.  Estate taxes start at $5.45 million dollars for an individual.  For a married couple, with proper planning, the exemption would double.  Estate taxes are problem that you want to have-and you would need an attorney to help plan for them.

What if your assets are less than $5.45 million?

In Arizona, probate starts at $100,000 in assets (in total) without a beneficiary.  Accounts that have direct beneficiaries are not subject to the probate process.  Examples would be retirement accounts, life insurance, a Trust, or even Transfer on Death Financial accounts.  If you are the executor of an estate or a trustee of a trust-review the titling of all assets.  Just because there is a trust-doesn’t mean the assets were properly titled into it.  Create an inventory of all assets to determine if the probate process is required.

Even better than creating this inventory after the fact is to review it now before you inherit the assets.  Recently we met a new client whose parent passed away with a multi-million dollar account that was titled only in their name.  This is going to end up costing over six figures in legal fees as part of the probate process.  This all could have been avoided with some easy planning.

No one wants to talk about their own demise.  It is a hard conversation.  The better question is to ask if you would prefer to have your loved ones or favorite charity as your beneficiary, or attorneys and the IRS?  I know what I am choosing.  Do you or does your family know?


This information is not intended to be a substitute for individualized legal advice. Please consult your legal advisor regarding your specific situation.


Kevin Foster, CFP ®
Comprehensive Wealth Manager | Tax Advisor
Chandler, AZ 85226