Estate Planning 101

Estate_planningAs an estate planning attorney, I’m often asked, “What is estate planning?”  Here is a definition of estate planning:

“I want to control my property while I’m alive, take care of myself and my loved ones if I become disabled, and give what I have to whom I want, the way I want and when I want, while saving every tax dollar, professional fee and court cost possible.”

This is what good, comprehensive estate planning is all about.  And yet it is impossible for an individual without legal and tax background to effectively plan an estate.   On the other hand, it is impossible for a professional with legal and tax background to plan an estate without in-depth knowledge of a client’s goals, needs, concerns, and overall family and financial situation.  Too often, lack of communication prevents clients and attorneys from adequately coordinating personal desires with legal and tax considerations.  Without this coordination, an estate plan which provides control and carries out individual desires at the lowest possible cost is impossible to design.

The purpose of this blog post is to provide you with some information to enable you to make good choices for you and your loved ones.  Over the months we will discuss everything from basic will-based plans to the more complex tax-saving strategies behind life insurance trusts, charitable trusts, and personal residence trusts, as well as advanced estate planning strategies and asset protection techniques.  We will look at the various methods of maintaining control of one’s property if incompetent, the distribution of assets after death, protecting your children’s inheritance from divorce or bankruptcy, and the cost and procedure involved in the transfer of assets to trusts when trusts are part of your comprehensive estate plan.  We will review methods of avoiding the time, expense and publicity of probate, allowing for transfer of asset to beneficiaries without court involvement.  And we will also outline numerous income, estate and gift tax issues along with methods of minimizing or eliminating taxes.

As I tell my seminar audience, with about 70% of Americans dying without any estate plan in place, my goal is to try to educate to motivate – either to motivate you to prepare your first comprehensive estate plan or to improve your existing one.  The costs of doing neither can be huge.  So stay tuned!