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Thinking beyond the will for complete estate planning

Most people realize that the basic responsibilities of estate planning make a complete and concise will necessary. The fact is, though, that wills are just the beginning. Not only can they be more complex than a simple rundown of who inherits what, but they are just one solution that you can use among many as you make your plans.

If you are trying to put together the most complete estate plan possible, there are a couple other items you can prepare to help ensure that your wishes are followed. One is a living will, which can help doctors and your loved ones understand your final medical decisions and follow them. The other is the establishment of a trust - or of several trusts, in some cases - to help minimize the taxes and probate costs to your heirs.

Understanding living wills

The first thing to understand is that living wills can go by a variety of names, including advance directives, personal directives, and advance decisions. All of these terms refer to the same basic and common arrangement. Basically, this document outlines your wishes about lifesaving or life-prolonging treatments that doctors might consider using if you were unconscious and unable to make your wishes known.

They allow you to maintain control over your end of life decision-making regardless of the degree of your incapacitation, and they can be as sweeping or as restrained as you wish. To understand whether this document fits your needs, consider the points raised by the questions in this U.S. News & World Report article about living will basics.

How trusts can help manage your assets

The other major addition to your will that you might consider as you work through your estate planning is the use of one or more trusts to handle the process. Trusts have a variety of benefits, and the specifics of each one are tailored to the ends you want to achieve, from minimizing taxes to making sure that the right heirs wind up with the right amount of control over your assets. There are several types of trusts, including:

  • Credit-shelter trusts
  • Generation-skipping trusts
  • Qualified personal residence trusts
  • Irrevocable life insurance trust
  • Qualified terminal personal interest property trust

To set up any of these for your estate, you will need the help of an experienced estate planning attorney who can help you assess your assets and your goals so that your trust can be designed to follow through with your wishes. That way, you can have a greater degree of control over just what happens to your legacy.

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