It’s not just about having documents – It’s about getting results! The key to proper estate planning is clear, comprehensive, customized instructions for your own care and that of your loved ones, and the orderly, efficient, and effective distribution of your wisdom and your wealth - your legacy! These instructions can be included in a will, a trust, and in several other related documents. Many folks ask, "Which is better, a will or a trust." The answer lies in the titling of your assets during your life (see below) because if the title to your assets doesn't match your estate plan, neither document will work when needed! We find that most of our clients are best served with a combination of these tools, backed up by the Three Step Strategy™.
In our experience much of what passes for estate planning in this country is little more than word processing! We don’t believe you should pay a licensed professional to do word processing. Their value is in their counsel and advice, based on knowledge, wisdom, and experience. If word processing is all you want, you may as well do it yourself! But if you want an estate plan that works, seek good counseling.
Funding of a trust, or changing the title to your assets, is critical to whether or not your trust will work when needed. Often people create a trust to avoid probate after they die. Think of creating a trust as building a box. Once you build the box you need to fill it with all your "stuff" so that the instructions (your estate plan wishes and goals) that you leave in the box will govern the disposition of your "stuff." Only assets owned by you as trustee (boxwatcher) of your trust are controlled by the instructions of that trust. Thus, regardless if you leave instructions in a will or a trust neither will control the asset unless it is titled properly.
In our experience most law firms will create a "bare bones" trust but, they DO NOT fund their clients trusts. The funding process is detail oriented, laborious, and word processing or transactional attorneys, often leave it to the client to do themselves. Funding can be overwhelming and confusing to the lay person and most often it never gets done. That is a main reason that estate planning documents do not work when needed.
Our firm does not leave that eventuality to chance. With client assistance, our sophisticated software program allows us to fund your living trust, then we track the funding process to completion and verify to the client that it is done, and we provide reports to the client along the way.
This may be the key ingredient that distinguishes our firm; our Annual Maintenance Program. An estate plan faces a myriad of changes. First, there is constant change in your personal, family, and financial situation. Secondly, there is constant change in both tax law and non-tax law that impacts your estate plan. Third, there is constant change in your attorney’s experience and expertise. Your professional advisors are continually improving through on-going education and collected experience. Since everything constantly changes, you cannot expect a plan to accomplish what it was intended to accomplish if it is never updated. The costs of failing to update are typically far greater than the costs of keeping your plan current.
The cost of any estate plan has three parts: the part you pay for counseling and design up front (or for word processing); the part you pay for updating (or the larger cost of failing to update); and the part your loved ones pay after death. Regardless of documents, there are always after-death costs. Wills go through probate. Trusts have to be settled. In either case, assets must be transferred and often a death tax return must be prepared. Be sure you are discussing all the parts of the cost with your attorney before you begin to plan. Understand what all the costs will be in advance, and ask how they can be controlled.