Secrets to Estate Planning

While many people focus on documents such as a living trust, Will, power of attorney or Advance Health Care Directive when considering an estate plan, I believe you should focus on a few more details in addition to the estate planning documents.

First, most people need a plan for their estate in addition to the estate planning documents.  Most attorneys will draft an estate plan, but the plan does not accomplish the intended goals.  A true estate plan includes writing instructions to family members on distribution of funds, ensuring that all assets are properly controlled by the living trust document and communicating financial or medical desires to family members so that true intentions are followed.  Simply drafting a Living Trust, Will, Power of Attorney or Advance Health Care Directive is typically not enough unless they are customized to your goals.

Second, your assets are not protected from probate court unless re-titled in the name of your living trust.  Again, simply drafting a living trust does not protect your assets from probate.  Unfortunately, many attorney’s do not offer the service of “funding” a living trust which means re-titling assets or changing beneficiaries to the name of your trust.  Without properly giving the living trust control over your assets, your family members may not avoid probate.

Third, some assets should not be re-titled to the name of your trust such as an IRA or 401K.  However, these assets can still be protected through a living trust but should be carefully examined and reviewed by an estate planning attorney.

Drafting an estate plan is more than just cookie cutter documents.  An estate plan, if drafted correctly, can preserve the value of your assets, avoid probate, reduce unnecessary estate taxes, ensure that your loved ones will receive what you intend them to receive, manage your estate for yourself in the event that you become disabled and can protect your privacy.   Make sure your estate plan accomplishes your goals.

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