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Tips and Best Practices in Estate Planning



Every estate plan is as unique as the person who prepares it and for whom it is prepared. Still, there are some overarching principles that can be considered best practices and tips for preparing, reviewing, or revising individual estate plans, as well as for professionals in financial planning and/or trusts and estates legal fields who are charged with preparing those estate plans. The tips are presented in no particular order of importance or significance. Instead, they offer a springboard for brainstorming and practical experience from the field to assist others in making their own estate plans as promptly, effectively, and efficiently as possible.

Act Now

It is best not to delay and to prepare your estate plan as soon as possible. You want to prepare a plan before it is needed and when you have a clear mind and all of your faculties intact, without the stress of a tragedy or health crisis motivating urgent decision-making. Focus on the management of your estate, property, and assets and how your health and personal care will function and operate if such a need arises. Otherwise, you may have a court or state government intervene and act in your stead.

Do Not Stop With a Will

A simple will is probably not sufficient in terms of a complete estate plan. Properly-prepared, written, and signed wills mandate who takes charge and who receives what property from your estate from the point of your death forward. However, the will is only triggered at the point of the testator's death. A will has no utility before the testator dies. For example, a will does not help you circumvent the time-consuming and costly probate process, it does not control your estate, property, or assets if you become infirm to the point of incompetency, and it does not name a party to make health and personal care decisions in your stead, should you become infirm and unable to do so. Other tools are needed in those instances.

Consider the Creation and Funding of a Trust

Trusts can be a helpful device for managing assets and property during a testator's lifetime and even after death. They prove useful in circumventing delays and expenses associated with navigating the probate process. Trusts are only useful in managing the assets that are transferred into the trust vehicle. Those assets left outside of the trust, overlooked, or not yet transferred are not shielded. The proper time to transfer assets into a trust is after the creation of the trust is completed. To transfer assets into a trust or "fund" a trust, one need only notify his or her bank officer or portfolio manager for each account and request that the name on the accounts be changed from a personal name to the name of a trust.

Safeguard Important Legal Papers

Wills, health care proxies, and powers of attorney are useful and important legal documents. However, they are only useful if the parties who need to use them can obtain them quickly when they are needed. Waterproof and fireproof safes, lawyers' offices, or safe deposit boxes at banks are all good places to store these important legal documents. Then, be sure to notify key people about the location of these documents, so that they can be quickly obtained and accessed if the need arises.