A well-crafted estate plan is more than a set of legal documents—it's peace of mind. Estate planning attempts to eliminate the uncertainties of probate and maximize the value of one's estate by reducing taxes and other expenses. Aspects of such planning include wills, trusts, powers of appointment, property ownership, gifts and powers of attorney as well as advanced directives.
A common misconception is that estate planning is only for the elderly or the wealthy, but this is far from the truth. However modest or extensive it may be, almost everyone has an estate of some kind: car, home, bank accounts, investments, life insurance, furniture, personal possessions, etc.
Illness and accidents happen at all ages, and we can't determine when they occur. When you pass on, it is likely you will have something to leave behind. In order to make sure you leave what you want to whom you want—and with the least amount of taxes, legal fees and court costs—you need to plan ahead. Future planning is especially important for those who can afford to lose the least.
Other matters to consider:
- Instructions for your care should you be incapacitated
- Naming a guardian for your children
- Providing for disabled relatives or those who aren't financially responsible
- The transfer of your business upon retirement, death or disability
- Organization of important documents (deeds, titles, etc.)
Probate is a legal process through which the court sees that, upon your death, your debts are paid and your assets are distributed according to your will. Disadvantages of probate include:
- Tends to be expensive (legal fees, executor fees and other costs)
- Takes time (usually 9 months to 2 years but sometimes longer)
- Family has no privacy (public process)
- Family has no control (process determines everything)
A will is not exempt from probate, but a revocable living trust is. This document prevents court control of assets, combines all assets into one plan, provides maximum privacy, is valid in any state and can be changed by you at any time.
Waddell, Cole & Jones has several attorneys well-versed in drafting estate plans and helping families retain and manage assets.