The power of a good estate plan is that it will provide you peace of mind, it will protect you, your privacy, your dignity, your property, and your loved ones. It will help preserve your wealth by avoiding unnecessary probate administration, unnecessary estate taxes, and unnecessary acceleration of income taxes.

What is a good estate plan?

Everyone wants to reduce or avoid legal fees, court costs, and taxes, both estate and income. Also, many people want to ensure their property will stay in their family bloodline. They want to make sure their assets will be protected from long term care costs wiping them out.

To accomplish these goals, we spell out who can handle your affairs upon incapacity or death so the court does not need to be involved. We use powers of attorney and properly funded revocable trusts. We help our clients update beneficiaries on life insurance, annuities and retirement plans so that they are properly coordinated to work properly.

One million dollars going through probate generates a fee to the treasurer of about $1,800. This is easily avoided if you plan ahead.

If your child inherits $1 million from you free of trust, they could merge that with their spouse and lose half of that if they became divorced. They could lose it in a lawsuit. With good planning, we can avoid that.

What should you do if you want to harness the power of a good estate plan to give you peace of mind?

First, identify your assets and their initial cost. Those include real estate interests, retirement accounts, life insurance, annuities, brokerage accounts, certificates of deposit, royalties, partnership interests and more.

Determine who owns each asset. Is it in your name alone? Is it in your spouse’s name alone? Is it in both names? All of these details can be a bit overwhelming if you try to do it yourself. That is why you need professional assistance.

Second, determine which people you trust the most to handle your financial affairs and to make medical decisions for you in the event you are incapable of making such decisions. Consider first, second and more choices as alternates.

Third, determine which people you want to benefit. This is usually spouse and children.

Fourth, schedule a meeting with an estate planning attorney. Make sure they are well qualified and experienced to handle these matters for you. If they have earned an advanced legal degree in the subject of estate planning, that is a good indication that they are well qualified.

If they have engaged exclusively in estate and asset protection planning for more than ten years, they have sufficient experience. Learn how they perform their service. Find out exactly what is included in the service.

Mark F. Winn, J.D., Master of Laws (LL.M.) in estate planning, is a local asset protection, estate and elder law planning attorney.