Let's look at the need for finding the right lawyer, because not just "any" lawyer will do.

Would you go to a real estate attorney to file for divorce? Absolutely not. Why? A real estate attorney does not practice divorce law and could easily make mistakes that would be costly to you. The same holds true when planning your estate. Finding an attorney who practices estate planning law will help to ensure that your estate is planned thoroughly and without mistakes.

By planning with a qualified attorney, you can avoid these typical problems:

  • Not all assets are held in Trust. Many assets, such as IRAs and 401(k)s have beneficiaries that do not take into account a Living Trust. Qualified attorneys will not "forget" about these assets and will plan for them during the estate planning process.

  • Each spouse is entitled to a federal applicable exclusion amount. This amount is $5 million in 2011 and 2012. A qualified attorney can be sure that the deceased spouse's exclusion amount is not lost upon death, but is used to pass assets in a manner that does not cause the assets to be taxed at the death of the surviving spouse.

  • Many states now have death taxes that are in addition to the federal estate tax. If not planned correctly, sheltering the estate for federal estate taxes can produce higher state death taxes. Qualified estate planning attorneys know how to build flexibility into the estate plans to avoid these problems.

  • In addition to factoring in estate taxes, a well-drafted estate plan also factors in income taxes. A qualified estate planning attorney can make sure that you understand the implication of your estate plan on future potential income taxes. For example, if you gift appreciated assets rather than cash, those assets will not get "stepped-up" in basis at your death. This would result in avoidable capital gains taxation upon the sale of those assets by your beneficiary.

If you plan your estate with a lawyer who does not stay on top of these ever-changing laws, they are very likely to make mistakes in these areas. This could be very costly to your heirs and has the potential to keep your children and grandchildren from ever seeing the money you intended for them to have.