Do I need an estate plan if I have a small estate?

Generally, smaller estates will fare worse than larger ones if a clear estate plan is not created because the cash reserves in the estate may be liquidated needlessly for probate attorneys' fees and/or estate taxes. With any size estates, it is important to have a clear plan that is simple to execute and avoids lengthy court processes.

Will putting my family members' names on my assets be an effective estate plan?

Although joint titling of assets is an option, most of the time it is a bad choice because it exposes your estate assets to the creditors of your family members and once this is done it is difficult to undo in the event of a bankruptcy, divorce or other legal conflict. A revocable trust accomplishes the same goals without the needless risk to your estate.

Can't my spouse or children just make decisions for me?

Although it may seem logical, your family members are not legally empowered to make decisions on your behalf simply because they are family. The proper legal documents such as Durable Powers of Attorney and Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare must be executed in order to allow family members to make legal decisions for you.

Can I just give away my assets before I die?

While gifting of assets is a planning option, the timing generally does not work so that gifting at the right time becomes a viable strategy. Too often, the estate assets are required for support and gifting away assets will result in inadequate funds to live on. If Medicaid is involved, there is a look back period for any transfers so a gifting strategy could backfire leaving an individual with no assets to pay for needed long term care and no public benefits. Also, gift tax returns must be filed and if over the limit, a Federal Tax can be levied on gifts.

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