What are the important questions I need to answer before completing my estate plan?
Here is your Estate Planning checklist:
1. Do I have an up-to-date will?
2. Do I have a durable power of attorney designating someone to make financial decisions for me if I cannot?
3. Do I have a health care power of attorney to make sure my wishes are carried out if I am unable to make health care decisions for myself?
4. Does my will name a guardian to take care of my minor children if my spouse and I should die?
5. Do I have a living trust to avoid probate?
6. Are my assets titled in the name of my trust?
7. Does a family member or responsible party know where all my important documents are located?
8. Am I still comfortable with the executor(s) and trustee(s) I selected?
Why should I have a living trust?
The number one reason to have a living trust is avoidance of probate – the court-supervised process for settling a person’s estate. Unfortunately, many people allow their estates to fall into probate because they fail to make a plan. A living trust is the plan that you can make to avoid probate.
Why should probate be avoided?
Probate is expensive! Your estate has to pay at least two people (the personal representative and the attorney) to oversee the transfer of your property to your heirs. Their fees are based on a percentage of the value of your estate. They can even charge more fees for additional services such as selling your property. Probate takes too long! The average probate estate is open from one to two years. Your heirs must wait to receive your property. Probate is public, unlike trust administration, which is much more private.
How can probate be avoided?
Probate can be avoided by arranging to have your substantial assets pass to your heirs through a revocable living trust and/or through other probate-avoidance mechanisms, such as beneficiary designations for your retirement accounts. Probate can also be avoided if the gross value of your estate is $150,000 or less. Otherwise, whether or not you have a will, your estate will go through probate.
What does probate cost without a living trust?
Use the two columns to determine the probate costs for attorney and personal representative fees (these are in addition to other probate expenses such as court costs, bond premiums, and appraiser fees). Your GROSS ESTATE is the total fair market value of your property without subtracting debts (such as a mortgage):
Does a living trust allow me to keep control of my property?
Yes. You still control your property and you can do whatever you please with it. You may buy, sell, change investments – just as you normally would. You may put property in and take property out of your living trust. You may always revoke the trust.
How can I protect my child’s inheritance?
The law allows an 18-year-old child to spend an inheritance freely. If you feel this is unwise, your trust can restrict when and how the inheritance will be used. For instance, your trust can state that the inheritance will be used only for the child’s education; after that, the inheritance will be given to the child in increments (i.e., half at age 25, the rest at 30). Or you can give the trustee discretion in deciding when and how much to give the child. You are limited only by your imagination in writing conditions into the trust. You should also name a guardian for minor children.
Does a living trust have advantages for me during my lifetime?
Yes. If you become incapacitated and cannot handle your financial affairs, your living trust will keep you from being put under a court supervised guardianship or conservatorship. Your successor trustee will act for you. The probate court will not be involved.
PLANNING IS LIFE PLANNING! It’s important to know that estate planning is not a “do it once and you’re done forever” kind of activity. A new child, marriage, divorce, or death in your family can impact your estate plan in the future. Assets and financial circumstances can shift, and often do. And there can be periodic changes in the law that might have an effect on your plan.
You should revisit your estate plan – literally get it out and read it over – every few years to ensure it is still effective for its intended purposes. If you need to update your plan in order to accommodate changed circumstances, or if you’d like to make sure your plan is still working as intended, the Law Offices of Robert E. Greeley is here to assist you. There is never a charge for a periodic check-in, and we offer written plan updates at a reasonable hourly rate.
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