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What is Estate Planning?
Estate planning is about choices and control. Do you choose to maintain control of what you have now, and then control who gets your estate and how they get it? Or, do you let the courts decide? At what costs?
There are so many misconceptions about estate planning. We often hear, I don't have enough assets to plan. That alone is the reason to plan. Think of it this way. If you have millions of dollars you probably can afford to lose 3-10% of your estate to probate and legal fees. But if you have a modest estate, that is a significant amount of money.
And it's not always about after you are gone. What about right now? What if you become incapacitated or incompetent due to health or accident? If you don't have health care directives with a guardianship stated, privacy laws are going to prevent your spouse or family to make decisions on your behalf. Then the court decides and the judge may appoint someone outside of the family to be the guardian with the power to make decisions. This process is expensive and an ongoing head-ache for your loved ones. Again, an experience best avoided. Here's a list of documents everyone should consider:
A Last Will and Testament
Used for smaller estates. For example if you have no real estate or deeds in your name; you don't expect to owe estate taxes; if you don't have children; or if all your assets can be tied to a beneficiary. A Will provides direction of whom you would like your belongings to go to after your demise. If you have property, you may want to consider a Trust to avoid probate.
A Revocable Living Trust
A revocable living trust means that it can be changed by YOU at any time while you are alive and mentally capable. YOU are the Trustor (the creator) and the Trustee (the manager) of your trust. You transfer your assets into the name of the trust but maintain full control while you are alive. A person or persons selected by you becomes your successor trustee/trustees who will assume the role of administrator upon your demise. Assets of the trust will avoid probate. You may want to consider a revocable living trust if any one of these conditions apply to your situation: 1) if you want to keep the public and court system out of your affairs; 2) blended marriages (couples who have been married before with children); 3) special needs children/heirs or an ill spouse; 4) you own real-estate (especially if you own out-of-state property); 5) If you want control of how your assets are distributed and when they are distributed; or, 7) You have estate tax issues. The price of revocable living trusts will depend upon your planning needs and the amount of legal work to accomplish your objectives. This can be determined easily by asking you a few questions.
Advanced Health-Care Directives
Health-Care Directives express your wishes and beliefs in regards to the type of medical treatment or lack of medical treatment you desire. You appoint a health care agent (power-of-attorney) to act on your behalf to make health care decisions for you in the event you are unable to communicate those wishes personally. Without this document your family cannot legally make decisions for you without court approval. Avoid a guardianship situation and costly court fees by ordering FREE health-care directives today. POLST expresses your DNR directives and other life sustaining treatments to fill out with your doctor. Both are free of charge. Use the order form below to request your copies electronically.
This document gives your appointed agent the power to act on your behalf with your financial matters. “Durable” means that it doesn’t end upon you becoming ill or incapacitated. Many people think the health care directives and power-of-attorney are the same document which is not the case. Minnesota changed the POA form in January of 2015. If you are still using the old form, financial institutions may not accept the old form. You can order a new one on this site for only $75. Use the order form below to request fulfill your order.
Personal Care Agreement
If you are caring for a loved one, you may want to consider a Personal Care Agreement. Most adult children feel some responsibility to take care of aging parents who become physically and/or mentally incapable of looking after themselves. Under state law, this care is considered to be done "for love and affection," and no money changes hands or is expected to do so, unless a personal care agreement is drawn up. Without this document, any money that the parent is giving the family member care-giver is considered a gift and this can be a huge problem if the parent needs to go on Medicaid in the future. There will be a penalty period for any monetary gifts. To read more, visit or Personal Care Agreement page.
Many often forget to update their beneficiary designations on accounts and life insurance when a major life event happens. Visit out page that addresses this issue to make sure you are not making one or more of the most common mistakes. Click here.