Some Practical Steps




When it comes to your estate, whatís not done is often the biggest mistake made.  Even people who realize the importance of providing properly for the future often have not considered the disposition of their estate.  From psychological difficulties in facing oneís own mortality to the more mundane problem of simply finding the time, the reasons people avoid preparing their estate are as diverse as the individuals themselves.

 If you donít make your wishes known, state laws dictate how property, personal items and assets are divided, with no regard to the individualís wishes.  Conflicts due to family issues and legal problems often result, tying up the estate and slowing down the distribution of assets.  Additional administrative expenses, attorney fees, and taxes, which must be deducted from the estate, can also reduce its overall value.

 When you know your objectives, it is easier for your attorney to prepare the documents for you.  Coordination with your advisors allows you more time to take care of those things that mean the most to you.  Financial advisors will work with you to find the right combination of products and services to fit your needs, if required

 The legacy you leave will depend on your preparation.  Through careful thought, you can leave your beneficiaries the estate you always meant for them to have.


 Like many people, you may assume that when the inevitable happens, your property and financial assets will be given to the nearest, dearest relative.  In reality, this may not be the case.  Unless you prepare yourself and your loved ones now, your assets may not be distributed as you would have intended.


 If you havenít already, one should prepare an estate plan.  If not for yourself, then think of your loved ones. Help guarantee that you wishes are met and lend your family peace-of-mind, avoiding confusion or conflicts at an already difficult time.


 Before consulting an attorney, gather the following information to help ensure a successful meeting:

  • Summarized data regarding you, your family and intended beneficiaries, including complete names, addresses, telephone numbers, social security numbers and dates of birth.

  • Your current Will(s): listing of assets, liabilities and ownership; beneficiary designation such as life insurance policies and retirement plans; and deeds indicating how your property is titled.  If the actual documents are not available, a description of each may be sufficient.

  • Have a clear understanding of who you want to receive your assets, including when.  Determine your nominees for: trustee(s), executor(s), successor trustee(s), advanced health care directive; nomination of conservator; power of attorney; and guardians for minors (if necessary).

  • Be prepared to discuss decisions regarding how to handle health care concerns.

A Trust or Will dictates, according to you, who will receive your money, property and family heirlooms and also allows you to make charitable donations, appoint guardians for your minor children and name a trustee for your trust, an executor of your Will, the person who will handle the details of paying debts and settling affairs.  Without a Will, your estate distribution will be left to the government under the law of intestacy, or death without a Will.

Assets within retirement plans, annuities, life insurance and trusts are awarded to the beneficiaries named within those arrangements.  However, itís a good idea to review and update the beneficiary designations of those plans to ensure your wishes are met.  And that this is consistent with your trust, will, etc.


Granting durable power of attorney gives the person you specify authority to act on your behalf in the case of an accident or sudden illness.  It allows that person to handle personal affairs like signing checks, preparing tax returns and making retirement elections.  Selecting someone you trust is essential, although the power may be revoked and designated to another person any time.  Itís important to execute a durable power of attorney now, as no one knows when incapacity or disability will occur.


Getting durable power attorney for health care allows the person you specify to act on your behalf with regard to health care decision when unable to do so yourself.  Be sure to thoroughly discuss your written requests with the individual to verify that he or she is able to carry them out accordingly.  Successors may also be nominated, as ďfall backĒ persons.


Remember to update the documents when major life changes occur, such as marriage, death, divorce or the birth of a child.  Itís also important to let loved ones know where they can find your documents Ė you may even want to provide them with a copy.

 There are many reasons to prepare an estate plan.  Most importantly, itís your voice to express wishes for your family and your assets.  Itís your chance to develop a personal plan to protect your loved ones.

People often ask me how the costs of creating a living trust ďpackageĒ compares with the typical costs of probating oneís estate in court.  While every family situation has its own facts and circumstances, which may affect the cost of a formal probate proceeding, two typical (and actual) case summaries follow: