A probate is the process of validating a deceased person's will and placing a value on their assets, paying their final bills and taxes, and distributing the rest to their beneficiaries. Avoiding probate is by far the most common reason why people seek out the advice of an estate planning attorney. While many have never dealt with probate, they still know one thing: they want to avoid it at all costs. This stems from probate horror stories covered by the media or told by neighbors, friends, or business associates. For the vast majority of people, avoiding probate is a very good reason for creating an estate plan and can be easily achieved.
Reduce Estate Taxes
The significant loss of one's estate to the payment of state and federal estate taxes or state inheritance taxes is a great motivator for many people to put an estate plan together. Through the most basic planning, married couples can reduce or even possibly eliminate estate taxes altogether by setting up AB Trusts or ABC Trusts as part of their wills or revocable living trusts. Also, a variety of advanced estate planning techniques can be used by both married couples and individuals to make the estate or inheritance tax bill less burdensome or completely go away.
Avoid a Mess
Many clients seek the advice of an estate planning attorney after personally experiencing or seeing a close friend or business associate experience a significant waste of time and money due to a loved one's failure to make an estate plan. Choosing someone to be in charge if you become mentally incapacitated or die—and deciding who will get what, when they will get it, and how they will get it—will go a long way towards avoiding family fights and costly probate court proceedings.
There are generally two main reasons why people put together an estate plan to protect their beneficiaries: To protect minor beneficiaries, or to protect adult beneficiaries from bad decisions, outside influences, creditor problems, and divorcing spouses. If the beneficiary is a minor, most states have laws that require a guardian or conservator to be appointed to oversee the minor's needs and finances until the minor becomes a legal adult—at age 18 or 21, depending on the laws of the state where the minor lives.
You can prevent family discord and costly legal expenses by taking the time to designate a guardian and trustee for your minor beneficiaries. Or, if the beneficiary is already an adult that's bad at managing money or has an overbearing spouse or partner who you fear will squander the beneficiary's inheritance or take it in a divorce, you can create an estate plan that will protect the beneficiary.
Asset protection planning has become a significant reason why many people, including those who already have an estate plan, are meeting with their estate planning attorney. Once you know or suspect that a lawsuit is on the horizon, it's too late to put a plan in place to protect your assets. Instead, you need to start with a sound financial plan and couple that with a comprehensive estate plan that will, in turn, protect your assets for the benefit of both you during your lifetime and your beneficiaries after your death.
You can also provide asset protection for your spouse through the use of AB Trusts or ABC Trusts and your other beneficiaries through the use of lifetime trusts. This can also include electronic assets.