Taking the complexity out of estate planning

Remember that old joke: How do you eat an elephant? Answer: One bite at a time. At the heart of that gag is the truth about how you tackle any seemingly complex task, taking it one step at a time so as not to overwhelm yourself. Just as in tennis a player should focus one game at a time (the winner isn’t first to 100), you can take estate planning one piece at a time, crafting just the right plan for your family.

 Rafael Nadal of Spain returns a shot to Tommy Robredo of Spain during their men's singles quarter final match on Day Ten of the 2013 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 4, 2013 in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens.

Many people neglect to create an estate plan because they see it as the proverbial elephant … too big, too complex. But if you approach estate planning in a systematic fashion, it takes the complexity right out of it—especially with the help of a knowledgeable lawyer who does estate planning every day.

Here are some tips on how you can reduce the complexity in creating an estate plan, from a recent Fox Business article:

Add up your assets. Take into account your retirement accounts, life insurance, potential inheritance, savings, property ownership, and so on. Make a list of what you have, who owns it, and who the beneficiaries are.

Consider trusts. Trusts are simply vehicles for protecting your assets from creditors—whether yours or your heirs’—and from potential future ex-spouses. They are also a great mechanism for maintaining your privacy and allowing your assets to pass to your heirs without the expense and hassle of probate, which can tie up assets for a year or more. And they also help you and your heirs avoid estate taxes.

Think about whom you trust to act as your agent(s). You will need to appoint a person or persons to act as your agent through a power of attorney in case you are unable to make those decisions yourself, in the case you become incapacitated or have a terminal illness. This applies for health care decisions as well as financial oversight.

Realize what a will can and cannot do for you. While a will is the cornerstone of your estate plan and is that most popular of estate planning documents, it is only one piece of the larger puzzle. A will can pass assets to your heirs, but it cannot avoid the probate court or judicial oversight, and it is a public document—so anyone can know what you leave behind and to whom. Even family members who are not entitled to receive anything under the will are still entitled to notice that probate is pending. (This is not so with a trust.) And while a will can be used to name a guardian for minor children, it is not the proper vehicle for such an important decision.

Have the right guardianship documents in place. Many parents make common mistakes when choosing a guardian for their children, such as putting this provision in a will, not naming alternates, and forgetting to address short-term emergencies. Your estate plan should include both long-term guardianship and short-term guardianship plans.

Note from the author: As a Personal Family Lawyer®, I can further advise you on all your options and make things as easy as possible for your family during a Family Wealth Planning Session. If you would like to have a talk about estate planning for your family, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Wealth Planning Session, and this month I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today at 720-266-8190 and mention this article.