The first step to protecting any estate is to have a current estate plan.
To die without a will only invites legal problems. Everyone needs at least
a last will. Most people can probably also benefit from a living trust
to pass their estate to their intended beneficiaries without probate.
Without a will or trust your assets will pass by intestacy under your
state laws, and this may not be in the manner you wish. Without a will
you also lose the opportunity to name your executor or guardian for your
minor children. You also lose the opportunity to lower your estate taxes
if you don’t plan your estate. For those reasons you should review
your will and/or living trust annually, upon marriage, divorce, birth
of a child, relocation, the death of your spouse, whenever your financial
situation changes or wish to change how you want to leave your assets.
Estate plans, like asset protection plans, can change frequently. And an
outdated estate plan can cause more serious legal problems than dying
intestate. Just writing your last will usually isn’t enough either.
A comprehensive plan will also include a durable power of attorney –
one for healthcare and another for financial/legal affairs – to
appoint someone to represent you if you become incapacitated. Finally,
a living will can express when you want your life artificially prolonged.
Having a good estate planner is vital, especially if you have a large
or complex estate.