Among the many reasons everyone should have a good estate plan and long term care plan, the top three reasons for these documents are: avoiding family conflict, avoiding probate taxes, and avoiding unnecessary court involvement (legal hassle and expense).

Long term care costs can consume an estate and leave nothing for loved ones. Having powers of attorney, with proper and appropriate powers which allow for Medicaid planning, and health directives, is advisable for almost every one of us.

For those in blended families (second marriages), clear and legally effective instructions will make sure one’s goals are fulfilled and that children will not be inadvertently disinherited.

Using a family agreement (a revocable living trust agreement) to spell out your wishes and instructions is the best way to provide for the smooth transfer of property outside the purview of the court and the general public.

The agreement (which is initially between you and yourself) can be changed or terminated by you while you are alive.

If you value your privacy, then using a trust agreement is essential. With such an agreement, you are the legal and beneficial owner while you are alive (trustee and beneficiary). On your disability, the person you name as your successor “trustee” (usually your spouse or your child) manages your trust property as you instruct for your benefit.

Upon your passing, your trustee administers your trust (pays bills, etc.) and distributes trust assets to named recipients or into trusts for their benefit, as the trust directs.

The benefit of using such an agreement instead of just a will alone is that all assets in your trust agreement do not go through probate. They are always private and subject to the terms (your terms) of your agreement.

There is no treasurer fee on these assets because they do not need to be listed on any public form.

Leaving assets to loved ones “in trust” for their benefit is good to do if you want to make sure it won’t be lost in a divorce or to creditors, and that it will stay in the family as you desire.

This kind of planning is essential if you want to make sure your assets stay in your blood line.

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