The goal of this guide is to help people considering estate planning get a feel for what an attorney might discuss with them during an initial visit.
3 Basic Documents
Any basic estate planning discussion should go over three foundational documents. First, a Will (or Last Will and Testament) is used to dispose of assets at death and name someone to handle your estate. Second, a Durable Power of Attorney is used to name someone to manage your affairs during life if you could not. Third, an Advance Directive for Health Care is used to make end of life decisions. These are oversimplified descriptions of the documents to make this guide brief, but these three documents should be part of any basic estate planning discussion. These three documents will likely be a part of any estate plan - even if there are more advanced techniques used in addition.
A Trust Discussion
In addition to the three documents discussed in the first section, there should be a discussion of whether the use of a trust (or trusts) might make sense in the client's particular situation. Trusts come in a variety of types and uses, a discussion of which is beyond the scope of this brief guide. However, trusts should be looked at in any basic estate planning discussion.
Coordinating Beneficiary Designations and Land Titles
Many assets such as bank accounts, insurance policies, and investment accounts come with forms to designate beneficiaries at death. Real property (land, minerals, houses, buildings, etc.) can be held in joint tenancy with right of survivorship, life estates, and other ways that can have similar effect. Those designations can be useful, but they also contain limitations and can cause pitfalls. The use of beneficiary designations and land titles should be discussed in any basic estate planning discussion and coordinated with any estate planning documents.
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