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Estate Planning is for Everyone.

     It is not just for “retired” people, although people do tend to think about it more as they get older. Unfortunately, we can’t successfully predict how long we will live, and illness and accidents happen to people of all ages.

     Estate planning is not just for “the wealthy,” either, although people who have built some wealth do often think more about how to preserve it. Regardless of how much money someone has, they generally know how and to whom they want it to be distributed when they are gone.  Good estate planning often means more to families with modest assets, because they can afford to lose the least. 

     The good news (of sorts) is that you already have an estate plan.  The not-so-good news is that it has been developed for you by the State Legislature and it is exactly the same as the estate plan for everyone else who has not drafted a Will or Trust or taken any other estate planning steps.  The State’s estate plan makes sense as a “fall back” where someone has never planned, but that plan seldom matches up with what the person really wanted, or what the beneficiaries thought was going to happen.

So what is Estate Planning?

     The estate planning process develops a plan allowing you to control your property while you are alive, care for yourself and loved ones in the event that you are incapacitated or disabled, and ensures that that you give what you have, to whom you want, and in the manner and at the time you desire.  A successful estate plan balances the above with your desire to save as much as legally possible on professional fees, court costs and tax dollars.

     There are three key components of estate planning encapsulated in the above:

  1. Incapacity Planning:
    1. Nominating a guardian to care for your persona if you are unable to act for yourself (in Oregon, the court still must approve your Guardian, but nominating them informs the court as to your desire).
    2. Designating an Agent to act via your Power of Attorney and providing your Agent with explicit guidelines for when they may act and giving them authority to take only the actions that you wish.
  2. Wealth Transfer Planning:
    1. Dying can be an expensive process – a successful estate plan minimizes the costs to your estate after you pass.
    2. Your wealth transfer plan is designed to avoid costs and obstacles where possible and to recognize and plan for the unavoidable costs and obstacles and minimize their impact.
    3. Wealth transfer plans minimize or remove the Probate Court involvement with the administration of your estate.
  3. Beneficiary Protection and Promoting Family Harmony
    1. Provide guidance to your children by passing along your values and providing guidance regarding the money left to them.  Its not just about passing along your valuable, but also your values.
    2. Treat the family fairly and avoid squabbling amongst beneficiaries over what they “know” you would have wanted where each beneficiary may “know” that you would have wanted something different.
    3. Establish trusts for those beneficiaries who aren’t capable of managing their money, whether due to age, disability, or spendthrift nature.
    4. Arrange for “back up” parents and provide them with guidance as to how you want your children raised and how they should use the funds left for the children.
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