When Planning, Ask the Right Questions

   When planning your estate, make sure you ask yourself the right questions.
   First, who should you enlist to assist you with your planning? You should use someone (it must be lawyer) who has advanced credentials in this complicated and multifaceted area of the law. It should be someone who only does this type of work. There are so many facets that need to be addressed. You will want someone who only does this kind of work, who provides you with a complimentary first meeting, who will tell you upfront what the fee will be, and who will tell you clearly how the representation will unfold– e.g. how many meetings it will take?, will there be an in person review?

   Second, you MUST go beyond the shallow thinking of “Is my will I created ten years in another state valid?” That is not the question. You see, a Will only governs probate assets. Thus, a Will typically does NOT govern IRA’s, life insurance, annuities, assets owned as joint tenants with right of survivorship. There are a panoply of rules and different assets are governed by different things.

   Third, and perhaps most importantly, ask yourself: “Do I want to ensure my property will stay in my family?” Most people want this. This is pretty easy. You just need to leave your assets “in trust”. There is a distinction between funding a revocable trust during life to avoid court involvement and fees and leaving assets “in trust”.

   FOR INSTANCE, let’s say Sammie is married to Lucy and they have one child together named Felix who is married to Jasmine. Felix and Jasmine have two children Kris and Kelly. Sammie and Lucy want to benefit Felix, but they do NOT want Jasmine to benefit if Felix passes. They figure Jasmine will inherit from her own family and they would like to ensure that Kris and Kelly benefit if Felix passes. Sammie and Lucy can each create revocable trusts and dictate that when they both pass, Felix gets their property “in trust”. He can be the trustee and the beneficiary of his own trust. In effect, he can have total control use and benefit. But if the trust is drawn properly, Sammie and Lucy can direct that when Felix passes, the property remaining in trust will go into two separate (equal) trusts to benefit Kris and Kelly for their education, health and maintenance. Incidentally, if Jasmine wants a divorce, the money left “in trust” for Felix’s benefit won’t be subject to equitable distribution. This helps preserve the remainder for the grandchildren.

   Fortunately, these excellent results are not difficult or expensive to accomplish. If you ask yourself the right questions, you are more likely to get the right answers, peace of mind and desirable results.


Contributed by:

Mark F. Winn, J.D., Master of Laws, LL.M. in Estate Planning, is a local tax, asset protection and estate planning attorney.