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Estate planning is a process, which involves making decisions concerning the transfer of one's assets at death as well as various decisions concerning health care, retirement, and other personal matters. It involves people - your family, other individuals and, in many cases, charities of your choice. Also, it addresses your future needs in case you ever become unable to care for yourself.
Many people mistakenly think that estate planning only involves the writing of a will. Estate planning, however, can also involve financial, tax, medical, and business planning. A will is part of the planning process, but you will need other documents as well to fully address your estate planning needs.
A Revocable Living Trust (sometimes called a Living Trust, Revocable Trust, Family Trust, Inter Vivos Trust) is a legal document that can, in some cases, partially substitute for a Will. With a revocable living trust, your assets are put into the trust, administered for your benefit during your lifetime and transferred to your beneficiaries when you die - all without the need for court involvement.
Most people name themselves as the trustee in charge of managing their living trust's assets. By naming yourself as trustee, you can remain in control of the assets during your lifetime. In addition, you can revoke or change any terms of the trust at any time as long as you are still competent. However, the terms of the trust become irrevocable when you die.
In your revocable living trust, you will also name a successor trustee (a person or institution) who will take over as the trustee and manage the trust's assets if you should ever become unable to do so. Your successor trustee would also take over the management and distribution of your assets when you die.
A revocable living trust does not, however, remove all need for a Will. Generally, you would still need a Will - known as a Pour Over Will - to cover any assets that have not been transferred to the revocable living trust.
Estate planning is important because it ensures that your wishes will be carried out in the event of your incapacity or death.
You should consider planning your estate if you:
Have a child or children that are minors
Possess property that you care about and want to pass to family members
Care about your future health care treatment
If you meet any of the above descriptions, planning your estate can benefit you in many different ways. Potential benefits include:
Being able to provide for your family.
Deciding guardianship for minor children. In order to ensure that your children receive the education and upbringing you want, be certain that you choose potential guardians instead of leaving it up to a court.
Providing for family members who need financial help or direction. Establishing a trust may ensure that relatives will have the money and aid that they need.
Avoiding probate and make sure that loved ones get property quickly and without trouble.
Planning for your incapacity. Durable Powers of Attorney and Advance Health Care Directives ensure that decisions concerning your finances and health care are made in accordance with your wishes.
Minimizing expenses and possible taxes due to property transfer.
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