What is involved in estate planning?

Generally, the form, variety, and complexity of the documents that comprise your estate plan will depend upon your personal circumstances including the nature, variety, value, and character of the assets you own along with your particular needs and those of your beneficiaries. You will probably want to minimize estate taxes and the costs involved in the administration of your estate. During the estate planning process, you will need to address a number of important questions, primary among which include (1) the person(s) who will oversee the management and administration of your estate should you become incapacitated, (2) the person(s) who will receive your property upon your death, and (3) the manner in which your property will be distributed to that/those person(s).

Depending upon your particular circumstances, you should address the following issues:

    * If you become unable to care for yourself, who will care of you and make decisions regarding your medical needs?

    * If you become unable to manage your business and financial affairs, who will oversee and manage these affairs on your behalf during your remaining lifetime?

    * Who should be the guardian of any children who may be minors at your death?

    * How should you and your spouse hold legal title to your assets (e.g., husband and wife, as joint tenants, or husband and wife as community property with right of survivorship, or as the separate property of one or the other of you)?

    * Upon your death, who should administer your estate, i.e., who should act as the Executor of your last will and testament or the Successor Trustee of your trust?

    * How can the federal estate and other taxes assessed against the property of your estate be minimized or even eliminated while not adversely affecting your other, non-tax objectives?

    * How will your Executor or Successor Trustee pay estate taxes and debts of your estate if any are due, i.e., from what sources will your Executor or Successor Trustee have the liquidity with which to pay your debts and taxes?

    * How should your property be distributed to your beneficiaries upon your death? Outright or in trust?

    * Who should receive the proceeds of your life insurance or your retirement benefits?
    Is that person old enough to receive the proceeds outright, or will a guardianship be necessary for him or her?