Sarasota estate and trust planning helps smooth the asset distribution process

By Michael Weisman

Estate planning is not an activity reserved for the wealthy. Anyone who has assets they want to pass on to heirs needs an estate plan, whether you’re a one-percenter or solidly middle class.

A will designates the recipients of your assets – if you die without one, state laws will determine how any funds left after debts and funeral expenses will be distributed.

But a will doesn’t necessarily take care of everything. Even if you have one, your estate may have to go through a lengthy and expensive probate process.

Berman Law Group can guide you through Sarasota estate and trust matters. http://www.thebermanlawgroup.com/

The planning process

It can be unpleasant to consider your own death and the aftermath, but it’s important to have an estate plan to ensure the process goes smoothly for your heirs. As you sit down with a legal professional to plan your estate, think about what you want to happen when you’re gone.

Your estate includes not only money but also anything else you own or have control over, including your house, business, life insurance or retirement accounts. Some assets will already have designated beneficiaries; for others, it is up to you to decide who should receive them.

Consider to whom you would like to distribute your assets. You might want to divide your possessions among family and friends or donate them to charity. Think about your family’s dynamics and the impact your decisions will have on relationships.

Your legal counsel will help you determine the documents you’ll need to gather to help determine your net worth, including property titles. Your lawyer also can advise you on how your estate will be affected by estate taxes and any other legal processes.

Once your documents are drafted, consider who will keep copies and where. You don’t want your beneficiaries scrambling to figure out if there is indeed a will or where you’ve hidden the key to your safe.

Berman Law Group can guide you through Sarasota estate and trust matters. http://www.thebermanlawgroup.com/

Trusts

One way to avoid the public probate process and protect the privacy of your heirs is to set up a revocable trust. It eliminates the need for probate for the assets in the trust.

One mistake people setting up a trust often make is not consulting a legal professional when setting up a trust, a move that many see as cost-saving, but one that could cause expensive problems in the end when heirs find documents were not properly prepared and that the estate has to go through probate after all.

There are other common pitfalls involved with trusts that a legal professional can help you avoid. For example, many people take the step of setting up a trust but fail to sign over the assets they intend to put in it, leaving the trust unfunded. A legal professional can help you work through a checklist that ensures you don’t miss a step in the process.

Also, carefully consider who you choose to be the trustee of your trust. Will choosing a family member put them in an uncomfortable position? Consider hiring an impartial third party.

Berman Law Group can guide you through Sarasota estate and trust matters. http://www.thebermanlawgroup.com/

Tracking changes

Often people set up a will or trust, place the documents in a lockbox and never look at them again. It’s important to review a will and trust periodically, as life brings about personal changes, and changes in the law sometimes drive necessary modifications.

For example, many people designate guardians for their young children and later regret their choices. People get divorced, remarried, have more children; maybe the aunt and uncle you chose as the best people to raise your children in the event of a tragedy were relatives of a former spouse, and your relationship has become strained.

Designated beneficiaries may die or fall out of favor. And sometimes legal documents should be modified to take better advantage of tax law changes.

You also need to make sure your documents include an individual with a designated power of attorney to handle medical and financial decisions if you become incapacitated. This is especially important if you have a non-spouse partner.

Berman Law Group can guide you through Sarasota estate and trust matters. http://www.thebermanlawgroup.com/

Consider your beneficiaries

The same process applies to policies that designate a beneficiary, such as life insurance or retirement accounts. Divorces and deaths can change who you want to receive that money when you’re gone; review the documents periodically and make sure the right person’s name is on that form.

Also consider your children’s needs. There may be cases where you had intended to divide your assets evenly, but life circumstances such as an injury, illness or incarceration have upset the balance. Are there now grandchildren in the picture whose future education needs you’d like to fund?

Working with a reputable estate-planning attorney can help ensure that your assets are passed on to the next generation in the way that you intended. Proper planning and regular reviews will make the process go smoothly.

Berman Law Group can guide you through Sarasota estate and trust matters. http://www.thebermanlawgroup.com/

 

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