Most people recognize the value proposition that estate planning offers to the wealthy because the proper plan can be used to reduce or eliminate estate taxes. However, estate planning also offers a value proposition to those of modest or moderate means. An estate plan can be used to reduce the costs, expenses and effort of probating your estate and (maybe more importantly) can avoid conflicts between loved ones by establishing your wishes in advance.
Probate attorneys often comment that their client started litigation because the executor is not doing what their deceased loved one would have wanted. Stated another way, the living are fighting to honor the wishes (as they understand them) of the deceased. A good estate plan removes the guess work regarding your wishes by telling your loved ones what you want, thereby removing the motivation to expend resources fighting.
A well-crafted estate plan will do more than direct where your property should go once you pass. Your estate plan should also state who will make financial or medical decisions for you while you are alive but unable to make them for yourself (i.e. if you are alive but incompetent). Your documents should also include your burial instructions or, at least, tell your survivors who you want to make burial decisions for you.
Entering into an estate plan gives you the opportunity to define your legacy by setting out your decisions regarding how you want your property and your body to be handled. By removing the guess work you also remove the pressure on your loved ones to fight to honor their vision of your legacy. Take some time to think about your wishes and then meet with an estate planning attorney to get those wishes put into place.
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