Most Americans, 55%, die without a will – and thus their estate becomes entangled in the laws of their state or even multiple states. Although laws are designed to fit what each state thinks is the best mechanism to determine how property should be distributed, the distributions might not fit your wishes.
If you have a blended family and/or assets above the estate tax threshold then it can be particularly important to hire a good estate planning lawyer.
Perhaps you have decided that you are ready to plan your estate. What is the first step?
The first step is to decide who should get what. Often this will be laid out in your will. But, in most cases, a living trust can help manage assets and avoid probate costs. However, this does not always work, as the trust itself can incur costs. If you have dependent children, then you should discuss with your spouse who should become their guardian if both of you were to die. This person is often named in the will and may also administer any property the children inherit until they come of age. Unless there is need for an institutional trustee, Estate planning and asset protection becomes a delicate balance that is unique for every client based on their individual desires and assets.
Also, your bank account and retirement plans can be used to pass assets outside of your estate. In the case of joint accounts this is automatically your spouse, but you can then name another beneficiary, such as a child. If your estate is more than the estate tax threshold, you should seek a lawyer’s advice on the best way to reduce the tax owed – bearing in mind anything you leave to your spouse or a registered charity is exempt. You should also include in your will the funeral arrangements you prefer.
If all of this sounds complex – it can be. Contact an estate planning lawyer for guidance and to help reduce tax burden and other costs you may leave behind.
The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely upon advertisement.