Despite the recognized need for estate planning, I continue to be surprised by the number of people who fail to do even the most basic planning. The absence of a valid estate plan means the state will decide how to distribute your estate, and it may not be the desired heirs. If you have heirs that are minors, they will generally receive their share when they attain the age of 18. However, most persons are not financially mature until the age of 25 or even older. Most clients prefer that their children or heirs inherit at a later age to insure the funds or assets are used wisely. Planning is also needed to designate the guardians for your minor child or children.

Many people believe that they are adequately protected with a will. A will is better than no estate planning at all, but there are disadvantages. For example, a will may not effectively control jointly owned assets. More importantly, a will generally guarantees that your estate will be subject to probate administration.

Probate is the legal process by which the court identifies, appraises and transfers assets in a decedent's estate. The court also orders payment of the decedent's debts. There are three reasons most people wish to avoid probate fees, delay and publicity. The fees for probate are generally based upon the gross value of the estate. The larger the estate, the greater the fees. The fees for even a $500,000 probate can exceed $26,000. Larger estates should generally expect to pay substantially more. These fees represent funds that could otherwise go to your family for education or other needs. The quickest possible probate takes at least six months from filing to close. Some have exceeded a year or longer.

Probate is a court process and, therefore, subject to review by the general public. An inventory is required to be filed; listing the decedent's assets. Notices must be published in the newspaper. Most clients prefer to avoid this type of publicity. A revocable trust can permit the family to handle the trust administration privately.

A revocable trust allows you to avoid probate and the related fees, delays and publicity, and is also helpful in preventing the need for a conservatorship if you become ill or are otherwise unable to care for yourself. A trust is particularly helpful for those who are self employed and may help the business to continue to operate in the event of the owner's death or incapacity. A revocable trust gives you the flexibility to change the trust as your needs change.

The information in this article is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. This article is for informational purposes only and may or may not apply to you. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your particular circumstances. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.