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You may have some questions about some aspects of the estate planning documents. These videos can help shed some light on these subjects:

A common misconception with estate planning/legacy protection is that you only need a trust or a will. The truth is, you need both, and then some.

To have a proper estate plan your “package” should include the following:

Revocable Living Trust (RLT) – The centerpiece of the estate planning portfolio is the revocable living trust. This written document determines how your assets will be handled after you die. “Revocable” gives you the control to make changes, transfer assets in and out, and even revoke while you are alive.

Last Will & Testament – Also known as a “Pour-Over Will” is used in conjunction with a RLT and its primary function is to convey everything you have forgotten to fund into the trust prior to your death. This does not avoid probate so it is important to get your most important items into the trust. The document also declares your appointed guardians for minor children or disabled adult dependents.

Durable Power of Attorney (POA) – Durable means that the appointment of the power will “endure” even after your incapacitation. A POA gives the agent the power to make certain decisions on your behalf, when you are unable to.

Durable Financial POA – This appoints an agent to perform financial decisions regarding any assets not funded in the trust at the time of your legal incapacitation. (Assets in the trust will be managed by the trustee.) Having a POA protects your privacy and saves money by avoiding expensive court and legal fees.

Durable Healthcare POA – This document allows your appointed agent to make important health care decisions in the event of your incapacitation, including the continuation of life support systems.

Living Will & Advanced Medical Directives – This allows you to determine how you want medical care administered if you have a terminal illness or are in a comatose state. These instruments will convey your wishes to medical professionals (such as your choice whether to be kept alive by artificial means or not).

Certificate of Trust – This is primarily for providing evidence to a transfer agent (brokers, bankers, account managers etc.) about certain facts concerning your trust. This document helps protect your privacy by not disclosing the full details of your trust when funding assets into your trust.

Avoiding Probate!  Why should you avoid it?

In addition to helping you create these important documents, we alsohelp you avoid the probate process. Why is this important?

(1) Probate is slow


One reason to avoid probate is that it can be time consuming. Since probate is a process controlled by the courts, it usually proceeds very slowly; while it can theoretically be completed in six months, in most instances probate takes from one to three years. It can take even longer if the estate is a complicated one or if any of the heirs are contesting the will. Three years can be a very long time to wait when you are waiting to get your hands on Uncle Milt's Ferrari.


(2) Probate can be costly


While the costs of probate vary by state, probate can be very expensive. The court takes a portion of the gross estate (the amount left by the deceased even before debts are paid) in probate fees. This fee can be as substantial as 10%. The court may use money from the estate to assign lawyers to guard minor heirs' interests or to conduct other parts of the process. Generally, if probate is avoided, the heirs can spend the deceased's money instead of the state.

The costs of probate include:
•    Lawyer's fees
•    Executor fees
•    Probate court costs and filing fees
•    Other expenses of guiding an estate through the probate process


For their services, both the lawyer and your executor will be entitled to fees from your estate.
Executor fees. It's common for the executor to waive the fee, especially if the executor inherits a substantial amount of your property anyway. But being an executor can be a fair amount of work, and some executors will choose to be compensated.


Attorneys' fees. In many states, probate fees are what a court approves as "reasonable." In a few states, the fees are based on a percentage of the estate subject to probate. Either way, a probate attorney's fees for a "routine" estate with a gross value of $400,000 (these days, this may be little more than a home, some savings and a car) can easily amount to $20,000 or more.

Other probate costs. In addition, your estate will have to pay court and filing costs, as well as other expenses incurred as you move through the probate process. For example, your estate may have to pay accountant's fees, appraiser's fees to obtain the value of certain estate assets, fees for obtaining certified copies of death certificates, the costs of sending important documents by certified mail, and more. These additional probate costs can add up quickly.

(3) Probate is a public process


Since probate is handled by the court system, all of the documents and information used in the probate process become part of the public record. Not only are the debts and the assets of the estate made public, so too are the distributions made through the probate. This means that anyone who cares to look up the correct public record can discover that you now have your great aunt's gold coins, Renoir painting, and invaluable marble reproduction of Elvis' nose. This sort of publicity often makes people targets for burglars or scammers.


So, what should you do?


The most straightforward way to avoid probate is simply to create a living trust. A living trust helps ensure your assets pass to your heirs privately, with the least possible expense.

And, what most people don't realize is that a living trust is merely an alternative to a will. Unlike a will, which merely distributes your assets upon death, a living trust places your assets and property "in trust" which are then managed by a trustee for the benefit of your beneficiaries. The biggest benefit is that a trust allows you to avoid probate entirely because the property and assets are already distributed to the trust.

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