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You’ve spent years growing your wealth and building your estate, so it is just good sense to plan to protect your assets and pass them on to your beneficiaries according to your wishes. When you’re ready to sit down with your financial professional and develop an estate plan, keep these tips in mind:

1. Write a will.

If you do not have a will when you die, the law of your state may then determine what happens to your estate, your assets and any minor children. In addition, the state process, usually governed by probate court, is often slow, sometimes expensive and open to the public.

2. Fund a living trust.

Follow through if you set up a living trust. Until you transfer ownership of property or assets to it, the trust is not worth any more to you or your beneficiaries than the paper it’s printed on. Unfortunately, many revocable living trusts are set up but are never funded. [Editor’s note: this is a key reason that so many estate plans fail. When you work with a Personal Family Lawyer, funding of the trust is an important element which is monitored if you do it yourself or is done for you when those services are retained.]

3. Re-title "JWROS" property.

Joint-Tenancy-With-Right of Survivorship titling of assets may result in estate planning headaches. Although probate is avoided at the first joint owner’s death, it is not avoided at the death of the survivor, thus only delaying estate taxes. Re-titling assets to a credit shelter trust can help avoid probate and provide estate tax savings.

4. Use both spouses’ estate exemption amount.

Leaving all property and assets to a spouse may avoid estate taxes at the death of the first spouse, but this approach wastes the estate tax credit of the "first-to-die." A credit shelter trust can maximize each spouse’s estate exemption amount, thus sheltering more assets from estate tax liabilities.

5. Re-title ownership of life insurance policies.

Most life insurance policies are owned by the insured, causing the policy’s face amount to be included in that person’s estate at his or her death. Policy owners may consider giving policies directly to the beneficiary or transferring the policies to an irrevocable life insurance trust. Either strategy could help reduce estate taxes.

6. Choose an appropriate executor.

Naming an inexperienced family member as executor could complicate the demanding task of settling your estate. This is especially true at a difficult and emotional time following a death. Look into the benefits of naming a professional organization to follow through with the duties of an executor.

7. Organize your paperwork and files.

If you do not provide your executors and beneficiaries with all the paperwork or files pertaining to your property, assets and wishes, improper distribution and management of your estate may result.

8. Update your estate plan.

Updating your estate plan from time to time is important so that it is implemented exactly according to your wishes. You will want to update your estate plan when there are changes in your family (births, marriages, divorces, deaths, etc.), or when the value of your estate significantly increases or decreases, when tax laws change, if you move to another state or if your business or career changes. [Editor’s Note: This is the other key reason plans faila and do not work at the time when the planner’s family needed them the most. The laws change, your assets change, and unless you are working with a Personal Family Lawyer like our firm, which maintains a relationship with you and your family for life, your plan may fail as well]

When you are ready to begin your estate planning strategies, talk to your financial adviser. Be sure to consult your tax and legal adviser as well before making any tax-related or legally related investment decisions.

SOURCE: NewsChief.com in an article by John Scheck, a wealth adviser and branch manager at the Winter Haven Morgan Stanley, & Co. Inc.

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