Although a will is the essential estate planning tool, it is not, as most people believe, carved in stone. A will may reflect your written intentions for the disposition of your estate but unfortunately it may not be the final word; there are several instances where the instructions of a will can be overridden by:
It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with all the basic tools of estate planning so you and your planner or planning team can make the best informed decisions regarding the distribution of your assets.
Regardless of any other steps you take to plan your estate, you will want to execute a last will and testament. If you don’t have a will designating the disposition of your property, the state will make decisions about who gets what assets, along with other legal decisions that may not be in accord with your original intentions. It’s known as “dying intestate” and should be avoided at all costs. Dying intestate can be costly in more ways than just financial.
You’ll also want to name the estate executor in your will -- this is the person or institution who will administer the distribution of your estate.
Several plans and financial instruments can function alongside your will to pass assets to your heirs. Think of substitutes for wills as alternative ways of leaving property or assets that are in addition to your will, not in lieu of it.
Arrangements like life insurance policies, joint investment and bank accounts, IRA's and other retirement accounts, royalties, and shares in a family business can be "will substitutes" and should therefore be reviewed, and amended if need be, as you plan your estate.
I've heard about "revocable trusts." How do they work?
A revocable living trust is a trust you create during your life, titling all or selected assets to it that will be managed by a trustee. It is revocable because the creator (grantor) of the trust can terminate the trust at any time during their life. You can serve as the trustee during your life if you wish. At the time of your death, the trustee will distribute or continue to manage the assets within the trust in accordance with your wishes.
There are some distinct advantages to a living trust. They include:
It was the Greek dramatist Euripides who said "Leave no stone unturned," and so it is with estate planning.
Though we have covered the basics, there are additional planning tools you should not overlook when it comes to the protection of you, your heirs, and your assets. That is, after all, the purpose of an estate plan, so you may want to consider some or all of the following additional planning tools: