A well-designed estate plan can do many things. Estate planning can be generally divided into two components: lifetime planning and death planning. Lifetime planning typically includes powers of attorney, health care proxies, living wills (end of life choices) and asset protection.
Death planning typically includes wills and trusts to control the disposition of assets, nomination of fiduciaries, and payment of legal debts.
Maintaining Freedom and Control
Estate planning can preserve assets, avoid or lessen estate taxation, and avoid court intervention in making your decisions. Planning also provides an opportunity to state your preferences regarding health care and end of life choices, vest authority in someone else to make those decisions and give you assurance that you have all your “ducks in a row.”
Without the proper estate planning, families may need to go to court to get the authority to make health care and financial decisions for their loved ones. Effective planning avoids court intervention, thereby saving money, effort and anxiety during an already stressful time.
The Estate Planning Process
Estate planning generally includes five primary documents: a will, health care proxy with advanced directives (end of life choices), durable power of attorney, HIPAA release and homestead declaration. Many estate plans include trusts for several different purposes. Some of the most common purposes of trusts are to avoid or lessen the tax impact of death, controlling distributions of assets to minor or spendthrifts, ensuring assets remain in bloodlines, providing for disabled children and adults while preserving eligibility for government programs and probate avoidance.
The goal is to assist people in making the right decisions about their estate assets and create the legal vehicles that can help them achieve their goals. Estate planning should take the holistic approach to achieve goals. It is critical to consider personal estate planning goals, tax goals, lifetime needs and family needs to ensure that your estate planning uniquely meets your objectives. Estate planning documents should be flexible enough to accommodate foreseeable major life events, asset preservation and orderly distribution of assets upon death. Nonetheless, it is always wise to re-evaluate your estate planning documents at major life events such as significant growth or acquisition of assets, marriage, divorce, and birth of children and grandchildren.
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