A good estate plan 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.

So, what exactly constitutes a good estate plan? The answer is “What is good for one might not be good for another.”

Everyone wants to reduce or avoid legal fees, court costs, and taxes (estate and income). Also, many want to ensure the possibility to do Medicaid planning and want to make sure their property will stay in their family bloodline.

In order for these goals to be met, we use powers of attorney and properly funded revocable trusts.

We also need to make sure the designations on life insurance, annuities and retirement plans are properly coordinated with the plan.

If you have not had your plan looked at in the past three years or if you have moved here from another state, you should have your papers reviewed and updated.

How should you get started?

First, identify your assets and their initial cost. What assets? Real estate interests, retirement accounts, life insurance, annuities, brokerage accounts, certificates of deposit, royalties, partnership interests … and the list could go on.

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 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 alternates.

Third, determine which people you want to benefit.

Fourth, make an appointment with an estate planning attorney. Make sure the person is well qualified and experienced to handle these matters for you.

If the attorney has earned an advanced legal degree in the subject of estate planning, that is a good indication that he or she is well qualified.

If the individual has engaged exclusively in estate and asset protection planning for more than 10 years, that person has sufficient experience. Learn how they perform their service. Find out exactly what is included in the service.

As always, a little planning with professional help can make a BIG difference.

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