unable to manage your own affairs,” says Miller, “your co-trustee or successor trustee can take over control of the trust assets.”
The new trustee will have a fiduciary responsibility to act in your interests, the trust beneficiary. “The entire process can be handled privately,” says Miller. “There will be no need for an expensive public court hearing to appoint a guardian.”
At death, “assets in a trust don’t have to go through probate,” says Miller. This can save your heirs considerable time and expense because assets held in trust can be kept in trust or be distributed outright to specific heirs the way you instruct.
Martin Shenkman, an estate planning attorney in Teaneck, New Jersey, says the legal fees involved in setting up a trust as part of an estate plan might range from $500 to more than $2,500. “The more special instructions you put into the trust, the higher the fee.” Legal fees are higher in some areas of the United States and lower in others. Dahari Brooks created a trust in conjunction with his will. If Dahari dies when his children are young, and he has accumulated sufficient assets, the money will go into the trust rather than directly to his survivors. He has also made provisions for trust money to be spent on his children’s college education, and for specific amounts to be doled out when they reach certain ages. This will protect his loved ones from squandering the money over a short period of time.
If that type of arrangement appeals to you, be sure to work with an attorney who is experienced in drafting trusts. Ask friends or associates for references or contact the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (www.actec.org) to locate a skilled lawyer in your area.
YOUR ESTATE ACTION PLAN
Lori Anne Douglass, an attorney who specializes in estate planning,estate administration, and real estate for Kurzman, Eisenberg, Corbin, Lever,and Goodman L.L.P., in White Plains, New York, suggests people approachestate planning with the following steps:
Document citizenship and marital status.
While it may seem like an odd place to start, Douglass says it is important for an estate planner to know at the outset if the client is a U.S. citizen. “There are more tax advantages for U.S. citizens,” she says. It is equally important to document whether a person is legally married or divorced. “If you are married and not legally divorced, that person has rights to your estate,” Douglass explains.
Establish your heirs.
You must determine who your natural legal heirs are under state law. Typically this includes the husband or wife, children, brothers, sisters, and parents who are living. “You need a family tree,” Douglass notes, “because no matter who somebody wants to leave their property to in a will, your blood relatives have legal standing.”
Determine your assets and liabilities.
List all of your valuable items, including real property, tangible personal property (artwork, jewelry, etc.), all retirement benefits, bank accounts, stocks, mutual funds, real estate, and life insurance. Also be sure to tally up your debt. This will determine