What documents does a solid estate plan contain?

A comprehensive estate plan includes a will and trust, power of attorney and advance healthcare directive:

A will spells out how you want your property, possessions and finances distributed after your death. If you have minor children (under age 18), your will should also name the family member or friend who will be their guardian if you are unable to do so. You can even include who will care for your pets. Note that a will alone does not avoid probate.

A trust specifies how your estate and assets should be distributed after your death. A trust allows your property to pass seamlessly to your beneficiaries after you die without a probate procedure and with the help of a person you have designated.

A power of attorney gives someone you choose (a family member, trusted friend, professional fiduciary) the power to make decisions about your property, finances or personal care if you cannot make those decisions yourself.

An advance healthcare directive details who will make medical decisions for you if you are unable to communicate that information and gives that person the power to make those choices.

Why do I need a will?

If you die without a will, a judge will decide how to divide your assets according to the law and without knowing your wishes. The judge will also name your children’s guardian, and your assets will be tapped to cover court and legal costs. Settling an estate without a will can take as long as 18 months, delaying the distribution of assets to your heirs.

How long does it take to complete the estate-planning process?

The process generally takes about two months. But complex holdings and international planning may take longer.

Can estate planning reduce estate taxes?

Sometimes. That’s one reason to make estate planning part of a robust financial plan. I regularly work with financial planners to make sure our services are coordinated and tailored to best suit each client’s needs.