I have the pleasure of working with many people in creating their wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents. One theme: clients typically want their estates “in order”, and easily administered after their death. Here are a few thoughts on accomplishing this goal:
· If you have real estate – then have a living trust. The probate court is not a happy place.
· Make sure your real estate, bank accounts, and brokerage accounts are titled in the name of the trust. No one wants to fight with financial institutions and lose.
· Make sure your retirement accounts, annuities, and life insurance have proper beneficiaries. Keep proof of these beneficiary designations with your trust documents.
· Don’t be a hoarder. No one enjoys cleaning out the garage, the attic, and the house, or going through boxes of old papers.
· Although it’s important to leave your estate to who you want, try not to make it too complicated – small gifts to numerous people (who are difficult to locate) cause headaches for your next Trustee.
· Don’t make promises, or tell family members they get certain things, UNLESS this is clearly spelled out in your documents.
· Remember, your next Trustee MUST follow what your trust says. It doesn’t matter what you said, or what your family thought you wanted – it only matters what your documents state, in writing. UPDATE your documents to reflect your wishes.
· Your trust cannot have “ambiguous” language. For example, if you leave $10,000 to Jimmy, clearly state what happens to that gift if Jimmy is dead. If you name Suzi as your next Trustee, and she dies before you, who did you name as an alternate?
· And finally – have a quality estate plan prepared by a knowledgeable Attorney.