Estates, Wills & Trusts

Estate planning - seeing into the future

Opinions vary on the "Standard of Care" for an estate plan. To a great degree, it depends upon the size and nature of assets, family circumstances, and a really good crystal ball in which to see the future. What is the minimum needed documents for the hypothetical "average" Jack or Jill - or possibly Jack and Jill and the three minor J's?

If you have no family, friends or favorite charities, AND you have little or no assets and don't expect to have this change anytime soon, skip this and read something else. If you have some assets and people (or a charity, school or similar institution) you care about, then here are our thoughts:

  1. A Will, and if you have minor children, guardians are named, and maybe a "standby trust" to manage assets for the children;
  2. Durable Power of Attorney
  3. Health Care Power of Attorney or Surrogacy
  4. Living Will
  5. In our office, we also add an Authority to Dispose of Remains - for the choices of burial, cremation, and other directions. These choices are some of the most difficult for the survivors.

If your assets are sufficient, you may wish to create one or more trusts during your lifetime. If you have any significant life insurance, possibly one of these trusts would be to hold your life insurance to keep it out of you estate for Federal Estate Tax purposes. For larger levels of assets, it is often very useful to interpose an entity or entities to hold logical sets of assets for management and liability protection, and to have those entities owned by one or more of the trusts you have created. There are additional, specialized techniques which provide tax incentives and retirement structures, but the main list is above.

The process may be simple and direct, or quite elaborate and extend over time. The purposes served are for management, tax efficiency, liability protection, convenience and control as to beneficiaries, and for expedited transfer of authority upon death. Indirectly, this process creates structure and organization leading to financial efficiencies. In all instances, the core documents are the same, and the enhanced planning has specific and determinable benefits and purposes.

If you are single and sharing your life with a "significant other," you MUST state your wishes in writing, or else. The law will not protect your unwritten informal declarations. You may wish to look at our article, "Living Together" at in this Web Site.

Children who have recently become age 18 have special problems. Remember that these, your children now have independence under law, and privacy rights.