Start with basics when considering your estate plan

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Some people overthink legal estate planning. It can be very complex, but start with the basics.

If you do not have up to date legal papers (wills, trusts, powers of attorney), then you and your family might face some challenges and burdens that are easy to avoid.

Avoiding family disputes and preserving family harmony is one of the biggest things a well-crafted estate plan will do for you. Aside from avoiding unnecessary probate fees, unnecessary taxes and legal fees, providing clear instructions is important.

Many people believe that owning property (bank accounts, real estate) jointly with another is a good plan. It can be good, and usually is, but if you are single and have several adult children, think again.

Putting one child on your account because it is easy to do (to avoid probate) can be very bad. This arrangement can make it so that one child gets that account completely and that your other children get nothing.

Now, many people might think that their child will turn around and give some money to their siblings out of fairness. Well, that is a recipe for family arguments, conflict and dissension.

Also, if that joint owner gets sued, you could lose that money.

A good plan depends on all assets (real estate, retirement accounts, insurance, retirement accounts) being titled or designated properly to function as planned depending on the scenario that occurs.

The threats we neutralize are total dissipation of assets due to long term care costs, loss of assets to taxes, court costs, legal fees, and family arguments.

There are too many moving parts, in most cases, to do this kind of work yourself. An objective professional view and advisor is essential.

If you were going to have some sort of surgery, you would go to someone who has a license and is a good doctor. Likewise, if you want to get your legal affairs in order, you should go to someone who has a license, maybe advanced credentials, and is a good lawyer who does just that.

Mark F. Winn, J.D., Master of Laws (LL.M.) in estate planning, is a local asset protection, estate and elder law planning attorney. mwinnesq.com

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