The Importance of Estate Planning with a Professional
By Michelle Talsma Everson
Attorney Libby Banks is passionate about a unique area of law—so passionate in fact, it’s what she focuses on exclusively. Banks’ area of expertise is estate planning, probate and trust administration. Essentially, she helps clients of all ages plan for what happens to their estates if they are incapacitated or after they pass away. It’s an important topic that many may not realize impacts not only them but their loved ones as well.
“I’ve been an attorney for many years, and about 10 years ago, I began working with another attorney who specialized in the big probate fights – fights over the money when there is no will or no valid estate plan,” Banks explains. “I saw families fall apart when the fight escalated and the court got involved through the probate process [a court-supervised process of authenticating and administering an estate or a last will and testament]. I wanted to go into the preventative side. For the past eight years, it’s all that I’ve done.”
“I value family above almost everything, and these cases broke my heart,” she adds. “I decided to go into estate planning to help people avoid these painful, unnecessary family fights.”
Banks says that estate planning is something that you can do at any age, once you’re over 18, and in any financial situation. “You need to think of what your current financial and life situation is,” she says. “For example, if you have children, you not only need to plan financially, but for guardianship of your children as well.”
Estate planning, she explains, is all about selecting someone to make sure your estate is managed properly and for planning how you will distribute your assets as well. The goal is to create a plan, then keep it updated so it grows with you—for example, your estate plan would look different if you’re single with no children then 10 years later when you’re married with a child.
What are some downsides to not planning? There are many, Banks shares, including unforeseen consequences for, say, blended families. Essentially, a sound estate plan helps you to advocate for your loved ones and makes sure that your wishes are respected.
“Something to keep in mind, too, is that an estate plan names the right person to make decisions for you if you’re incapacitated; it’s not just about planning for when you pass away,” she adds.
One misconception about estate planning is that some may try to do it themselves or go to attorneys who do not specialize in the practice. Like all important, vital tasks though, Banks says it’s best to leave something this crucial to a professional.
“If you don’t do the job right and you don’t know you’ve made a mistake, it may well be too late before you – or more likely, your family – finds out,” she explains. “Without proper estate planning, your family may end up in court. If you are alive and incapacitated, they may be required to take you to court to declare you unable to handle your affairs and appoint a guardian and conservator. That is a public proceeding. If you are deceased, they may have to file a probate to transfer your property to your heirs. If you left your assets to minor children, the court will be involved in the expenditures until the children turn 18 – at which point the children get all the money turned over to them to handle. All of these things can cause major headaches and great expense for your loved ones.”
“As an estate planning attorney, I know what to recommend for you based on your situation, your beneficiaries, your assets, and your goals and dreams,” she continues. “You may not know all the ways you can benefit your heirs, or all the ways you can cause problems for them with a poorly drafted will or trust.”
While some may worry about the cost of the planning process, Banks assures that it’s well worth the price.
“The cost for a guardian or conservatorship if you are incapacitated (or for your minor children) and the cost of a probate on your death usually far exceeds the price of an estate plan put in place while you are alive and well,” she explains. “Putting the right plan in place, using an experienced attorney, will save your family heartache and expense. Knowing they will thank you for making it easier on them – that’s priceless!”
Banks shares that with the right estate plan, you can:
- Rest assured that your family or friends can step in if an emergency happens to take care of your health and of your finances.
- Avoid probate and quickly transfer your property.
- Minimize taxes, including capital gains taxes.
- Provide a guardian for your minor children.
- Designate that a trustee governs the money spent on your minor children, and that person can be separate from the guardian.
- Protect your inheritance from your beneficiaries’ creditors and from their divorcing spouses.
Banks shares that the estate planning process is a lot easier than some may think. “You can get started now, even though we’re social distancing, through a free-of-charge consultation over Zoom, Facetime, or the phone,” she shares.
Estate planning prices vary based on the situation and the free consultation involves a free estimate on how much a plan would cost, Banks adds.
In addition to her busy practice, Banks is actively involved in the local community. She is a supporter of the local nonprofit Don’t be a Chump! Check for a Lump!, whose mission is to “provide free breast health education, mammograms, testing, and direct assistance to breast cancer patients with wigs, support and resources in Arizona,” according to the organization. She also recently started supporting Amanda Hope Rainbow Angels, a local nonprofit that works “to bring dignity and comfort into the harsh world of childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases.”
“Being active in helping nonprofits keeps me connected to the local community,” Banks says.
While many of her clients come from the immediate area, Banks says that she can serve people from across the Valley.
In addition to her business and volunteering, Banks works with her husband of 32 years, Andy, at her law office. He serves as the business’ administrator and marketing director. “Clients and locals will often see him behind the scenes at my community seminars,” Banks shares.
The long-time couple have been in the Valley for twenty years and have three grown children. One of their children, John, is the firm’s paralegal.
“Between volunteering for local nonprofits, networking with other local businesses, and serving clients, it’s all about helping fellow Arizonans to me,” Banks says.
To learn more, including how to receive a free consultation and estimate, call 602.375.6752, e-mail Libby@libbybanks.com, or visit www.libbybanks.com.