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My grandmother was an excellent tailor, creating many garments for our family and others.  They were always made well, fit well, and expressed her love and creativity for each of us.  The shirts I buy off the rack will never be able to compete with my shirts from grandma.  An estate plan is like a good shirt.  A good shirt is cut to fit you, uses fabrics and colors that suit your complexion and hair color, and works well with your wardrobe.  A good estate plan is designed to fit your goals, uses strategies that work with your assets and fit your family dynamics.

Step One: Create Your Rules in a Will or Trust

The government has a set of rules all set for your family.  If you don’t want to leave your family and loved ones at the mercy of the government’s default rules and procedures, like probate and conservatorship, you need to act and create the necessary legal documents. 

Inside each document, like a will or trust, or the incapacity documents like your Advance Health Care Directive and Power of Attorney, you have the ability to tailor each provision to better fit your needs.  For example, something happens to mom, and son comes in, says I have a Power of Attorney, .and I have to tell him the good news is you do have a Power of Attorney, but the bad news is that it doesn’t authorize you to do asset protection planning, doesn’t authorize you to access her safety deposit box, and on and on.  Just like shirts, not all legal documents are created equal.

Step Two: Integrate Your Rules with Your Life and Stuff

Estate Planning documents are designed to be used, not shelved in a dusty corner.  In our office, we walk each client through what each document does, and who should get a copy.  If you have a trust, you need to place your assets into the trust, or “integrate” your assets with your living trust.  That is the process of making sure that none of your assets are going to be left behind and exposed to probate.

Step Three: Maintain Your Rules with Life and Law Changes

Let’s face it: life happens, and politicians seemingly never take a day off.  Change is a fact of life, and your plan may be able to handle those changes, or it may not.  Your family may be able to figure it all out and pick up the pieces.  But if you take the time to maintain your estate plan, you will have a plan that works the way you intended it to.

What kind of rulebook will your family have?