A good lawyer is like a good friend—someone who is smart and honest, has your best interests at heart, and is enjoyable to be around. But finding such a lawyer can be an intimidating experience. Should you look online? Ask a friend to suggest someone? And how do you know when you’ve found the lawyer you need? Here are five things to look for when seeking legal counsel:
1. LGBT Bona Fides
Your first priority should be to find a fellow member of the LGBT community. Working with a lawyer means letting down your guard and entrusting your confidences to a stranger who is also a professional. You will probably feel more comfortable doing this if the professional in question has had life experiences similar to yours.
A gay or lesbian lawyer is also more likely to understand your legal concerns on a personal level. He or she will probably be better informed about the latest changes in the laws affecting LGBT people and will know how to leverage the law to your greatest advantage.
A successful small business is rightly a point of pride. It means that plans were made, risks were taken, and sweat equity was liberally invested. When things go right, the resulting enterprise may become the livelihood of the founder and members of his family. After the hope for initial success, the founder’s greatest desire may be for the business to continue after he is out of the picture.
This is easier said than done. Business “succession planning,” as it’s called, can be complicated stuff. But it can also be vital to ensuring that the business continues if something unexpected happens to an owner.
There may be only one owner who simply wants to leave the business to a family member. In this case, the owner should have a Last Will & Testament that includes a specific bequest of the business to the family member in question.
If, however, there are multiple owners and one of them dies, the surviving owners may want to purchase the decedent’s share of the enterprise. If this happens, how will the value of the late owner’s share be determined? And where will the survivors come up with the money to buy it?
A well-thought-out succession plan will address questions like these.
As an estate-planning tool, the revocable living trust is oversold, overused, and overrated. It may also be exactly what you need.
The primary benefit is avoiding probate. Also called estate administration, the probate process can take nine months or more before your loved ones receive their inheritance. Having a living trust will enable them to receive their inheritance without delay upon your death.
The trust is established in your lifetime and then, when the time comes, functions as a substitute for your will. Setting up the trust means having to retitle each of your assets in the name of the trust. Brokerages, bank accounts, and real estate all must be transferred into the trust. The process can be involved, and in the case of real estate, it means having to prepare and record new deeds.
Still, this kind of trust is a popular estate-planning tool. Some professional advisers have gone so far as to recommend that everyone have a living trust. But the trusts can be expensive and cumbersome to set up. And unless they are properly maintained, they can actually complicate your estate after you’re gone.
When newspapers reported about the demise of Mark Twain, the American author and humorist quipped that “rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” More than a century later, the same could be said of the federal estate tax, which is effectively defunct for all but the richest Americans.
Under the tax bill signed into law on December 22, 2017, individuals can leave behind more than $11.2 million in wealth without triggering the tax. For them, the “death tax” is dead, at least until the law sunsets in 2026. But even for those of us who aren’t exactly rich, other death taxes may still be due once we are out of the picture. Careful planning can keep them to a minimum.