The short answer is: control.
Proper estate planning is essential to controlling how much of your estate you pass on, to whom you pass it on, and when it is passed on.
Back in March, I listed the Top 10 Reasons to Have a Will. However, not only should you have a Will, but in most instances it should be drafted by a qualified estate planning attorney.
“Do it yourself” will kits seem easy enough, but they can’t advise you.
If you have children and will be naming guardians or setting up trusts, you need the advice of someone who knows the intricacies of estate planning laws.
While providing for your children’s protection, you need to consider how your money will be transferred to them. Who will control the money until the kids are old enough to take care of it themselves? Will they get staggered amounts as they hit certain milestone birthdays, or get it all at once? What if one of your children is a spendthrift (i.e. a reckless spender)? In this day and age, the issue of blended families can make drafting a will for your loved ones even more complicated.
However, an estate planning attorney can not only draft a Will to provide for your wishes, but can also serve as a counselor, suggesting customized trusts that can be used to provide for your spouse and children on various levels. An estate planning attorney can even set up trusts that direct assets to someone other than family in a way that ensures your family has access to the money when that non-family member no longer needs it.
Moreover, tax and trust planning go hand in hand and should be considered simultaneously.
In order to maximize how much of your estate stays intact and is passed to your family, you need to minimize the amount paid to the government and maximize the investments held in trust.
This requires a considerable amount of coordination among your assets.
In order for the trusts to work as intended, all assets must be accounted for, both at the time the trust is established and moving forward. I’ve written before about tax exemptions, but the short version is that if your estate is properly planned, you (and your heirs) can potentially avoid tax liability altogether.
So – pardon the pun, but if there is anything even remotely complicated about your plan, then a do it yourself Will will not do.
Finally, this area has become some complex due to the ever changing tax laws, you really do want to have someone who does this work frequently, otherwise you really are just paying an attorney to fill out a Will kit for you.
Written by: Nancy McMillin & Kevin Pollock