An estate plan is an arrangement for the conservation, investment, use, management, and transfer of a person’s property, both during the person’s lifetime and after the person’s death. “Estate planning”, therefore, refers to arranging an individual’s property such that maximum benefit is accomplished at the time of property transfer – upon the death of the individual.
An ideal estate plan maximizes opportunities for savings and investment, improves investment techniques as well as tax savings, makes management of property seamless in the event of incapacity, allows transfer of property to individuals and charities of one’s choice, and much more.
Typical Estate Planning Tools:
While every individual’s situation is unique and requires specific analysis, the following is a list of tools that may be used when planning an estate.
- Will or pour-over will
- Revocable inter vivos trust (Living Trust)
- Irrevocable inter vivos trust
- Trust for minors
- Life insurance trust
- Special needs trust
One of the primary goals for many individuals in planning their estate is to avoid probate. Probate is the judicial process by which a decedent — the individual that passed away — has their property and assets collected, inventoried, and subjected to the payment of creditor’s claims. After this process, the property is distributed to the persons listed in the individual’s will or, in the case of an individual who has not left a will, by intestate succession.
Some of the other disadvantages of probate are the cost, delay, publicity, and possibility of will contests. Often times the cost of probating an individual’s estate exceed the cost of disposition of the estate without probate. In probate, the executor — the administrator of the will — and the attorney are entitled to compensation from the probated estate. Additionally, probate is a lengthy process and transfer of property can be much more expedient outside of probate. Property transferred via joint tenancy will have very little delay. Probate proceedings, on the other hand, can take many months to even years.
When an individual establishes a testamentary trust, however, their assets do not pass through probate but, rather, by means of the trustee distributing assets to the named beneficiaries. As mentioned above, creating a joint tenancy is an ideal probate avoidance technique.
Other Estate Planning Tools:
While wills and trusts are typically thought of as the only estate planning tools, there are a vast amount of options available when it comes to efficiently planning one’s estate. An individual can take a variety of steps to ensure their property is disposed of in a manner consistent with their wishes. Some of these options are:
- Creating a joint tenancy or other types of co-ownership for any properties you may own individually
- Drafting a transfer on death deed
- Establishing life insurance policies
- Establishing a buy-sell agreement for any business interests
- Contributing to your retirement accounts and monitoring list of beneficiaries
- Executing a durable power of attorney
- Executing an advance healthcare directive