Estate Planning – A Primer

Maybe it’s because preparing an estate plan forces people to think about their own passing or the death of loved ones. Maybe individuals believe estate planning is too sophisticated for their needs or their assets do not warrant a detailed, integrated plan. Whatever the reason, many effective and powerful planning techniques are often left ignored in the estate planning tool bag. Unfortunate. There are many objectives of life to be met and many corresponding options available to fit everybody’s goals, during life and at death.

For every client, there is an estate plan suited to their needs. Most clients begin the planning discussion by telling me that, “My plan will be very simple, even boring.” Your plan will mirror your life: it will be as simple as your life situations, needs and desires for your estate. Frankly, most of our lives aren’t plain vanilla. We may think so, or hope so, but there is always some twist. Some common situations: heirs of minor age or other young age (children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews) who may be too young to appropriately administer any sum of inherited money without affecting their own life decisions, second marriages, step relations, differing needs or abilities of children, parental needs arrangements, charitable desires, asset protection needs, long term health isuues, estate tax concerns, liquidity needs for survivors, and on and on and on. Anything sound familiar yet?

Once we get to openly thinking through the items that affect our lives, and ultimately our estate, many questions and concerns spider their way into our “simple plan” idea. Not to worry: It’s a good exercise to figure out which needs and desires to address, so in the end, your plan will be just that, your plan.

The universe of estate planning tools includes several categories: Wills, Trusts, Health Care Powers of Attorney, Property Powers of Attorney, Special Needs Trusts, Family Limited Partnerships, Credit Shelter Arrangements, Charitable Remainder Trusts, Life Insuracne Trusts, annual gifts, Residence Trusts and a whole stable of acronyms to tackle the needs and desires of a family. Which of these we employ, what it will accomplish, and how we use them, provide the nuts and bolts of our conversations.

We typically spend some time giving consideration to any and all of a client’s needs and desires; it’s not typically a quick and easy discussion. It shouldn’t be. Your story, your wishes, your needs — they aren’t “quick and easy”, and neither are the complexities of the people that you include in your life.

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