As a real estate broker and attorney, I always advise my clients to hold their properties in trust, and to execute a complete estate plan. This offers peace of mind in times of difficulty and as the population ages. The great thing is that documents like living trusts can be modified during your lifetime as needed, such as when the family grows, upon acquisition of other property, or when other life changes like illness or divorce occur.
An estate plan can provide several benefits:
1. Avoidance of probate proceedings
2. Protection of your family and loved ones – A properly drafted estate plan protects your minor children in the event that both parents die or can no longer care for them. It can also shield a spouse from creditors and protect adult beneficiaries in divorce situations.
3. Estate tax reduction – there are different tools to help with lowering estate taxes, so speak with your estate planning attorney
4. Protection from creditors. An estate plan can identify assets and help protect them from creditors after your death.
If you are thinking of creating an estate plan (you definitely should be thinking about it if you own real estate), it is time to get started. You will need to collect information to provide your attorney, so find a good estate planning lawyer.
Here are the documents you may want to incorporate into your estate plan:
1. Trust: Holding title to real estate in a trust enables you to appoint executors of your estate so that your wishes are adhered to properly when you die. It also avoids the costs of an estate sale and court time to determine who inherits the property. Just as importantly, if you have minor children you will be able to identify guardians to raise them should anything happen to you and your significant other, as well as appoint conservators to oversee financial needs of the minors. If your children are adults but poor with finances (or have partners who are not efficient planners), you can specify how and when they will receive their inheritance within your estate plan.
2. Will. This will specify your wishes regarding a host of issues like who will inherit personal items and the disposition of your assets. You can make changes to these documents due to the passing of relatives, age and health of family members. Make sure you specify your goals to your attorney.
3. Power of attorney. This allows you to name who will pay your bills, sign tax returns and sell any needed assets. Without a power of attorney the state will appoint someone to oversee such issues, so it is best to name those you choose to handle the task.
4. Health care directives and DNR. This will allow you to appoint the person who will make medical decisions for you if you are unable to do so yourself. I suggest including a DNR (do not resuscitate) if it is your desire not to be kept on life support when you are unable to breathe on your own. It is hard to think about such situations when you are healthy but it is necessary, and could save your loved ones from having to make painful decisions.
Depending on your net worth and the particulars of your assets, you can have estate planning documents drafted that range from the simple to heavily detailed. But no matter what you need, my advice to you as a lawyer and real estate broker, is to get started. Speak with an estate planning attorney to find out what you need to protect yourself and your family – make sure your legacy is left to your heirs or whatever organizations you choose.