Estate Planning Tips

How often do you update your estate plan? A better questions might be: how often do you even think about your estate plan?

Your estate might not seem like much to you, but “estate planning” isn’t reserved for those with multiple stories and acres of property. It covers what you own and care about, even if you’re a renter. And let’s face it, everyone has a funeral in their future to think about.

To be legally salient, an attorney in your state of residence must be involved — one who specializes in estate planning. This is one thing you may want to avoid the do-it-yourself methods; ask a bank or local bar association for a referral, or visit

Start thinking about who gets what and who takes care of your children, or your pets, etc. Don’t approach an attorney without having thought to the best of your ability what your wishes and plans are for the future, as well as an understanding of estate planning terms.

A will, for example, is usually the first document everyone things about when planning for the future. It puts in writing your specific instructions especially regarding the distribution of your belongings. It simultaneously binds an individual you name as executor to carry out your wishes. If you would like some of your finances or possessions to be given to charities, you can do so in your will.

The two major drawbacks of a will are firstly, it must go through the court process called probate which can take time, cost money, and makes your assets part of the public record. Secondly, a will does not cover the possibility of your still being alive but incapacitated. So what are your other options?

Have you ever heard of a revocable living trust? You can create one while you are alive, and also serve as the trustee. You can re-title all of your major assets (e.g. your home), investment accounts (with the exception of retirement accounts) and property. This does not stop you from buying and selling those assets, you simply must report gains or losses on your personal tax return; there are no tax consequences or benefits from doing so. For a living trust, you must also name a successor trustee to act after your death, or if you become incapacitated, as previously stated. The successor does not have to go through the court probate process to carry out your wishes. What if you own a home in a joint name? A RLT is probably better, because your spouse doesn’t have to get court permission to sell property if you can’t sign.

But that’s not all: you might still need a healthcare power of attorney, giving someone you trust the ability to make medical decisions if you are unable for yourself. A living will is recommended for detailing your feelings about prolonging end-of-life care.

Lastly, some of your assets are distributed directly to your named beneficiary regardless of your will or trust, including retirement plan accounts and life insurance policies. As you can see, there are plenty of things to keep in mind, and possibly revisit or change on a yearly basis at least. You can update the beneficiaries to reflect your current wishes without a lawyer.

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Article Originally Published in the Union Tribune – August 26, 2018
Originally Authored by Terry Savage
Original wording edited for reposting purposes