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The Estate Plan You Wish Your Parents Had!

By Mark Walters

Do we agree that life is a struggle? It's kind of fun if you have a sense of humor, but you have to be serious about estate planning. Estate planning simply means doing your best to preserve the wealth and assets you accumulate during your lifetime.

For those who have even a modest estate a living trust may be your first line of defense. An attorney can prepare one for a reasonable fee, or you can buy a guide and do it yourself.

Living trusts are easy to understand and easy to create if you will spend two or three hours reading instructions and preparing the needed forms and documents. A living trust is really just a legal basket into which you put all your assets to protect them from probate. The trust gives you a chance to pass your wealth on to those you choose. In probate a court makes those decisions.

Are there alternatives to a living trust? Yes, many. We will cover a couple of the simple ones.

The most common alternative is the joint titling of assets. If you want your house to pass to your daughter you put both your name and her name on title as joint tenants with right of survivorship. When you die the house passes to your daughter and avoids probate. You can do the same with bank accounts, brokerage accounts and cars.

Joint titling is easy, but dangerous. If your daughter has legal problems the assets with joint title become fair game for lawsuits. Another drawback is that joint titling is irrevocable. If things should turn nasty between you and your daughter, tough luck. You are stuck with her as a joint owner of your assets. There are also some tax consideration which might not be beneficial. Talk to your tax advisor.

Here's a good one...the beneficiary deed. They are not yet allowed in all states, but it should be considered if they are legal where you own property. A beneficiary deed simply states who is entitled to the property upon your death. It is entirely revocable during your lifetime.

Bank accounts and brokerage accounts can contain a transfer-on-death designation. This is super, because the designation is entirely revocable during your lifetime. Transfer-on-death simply states who is entitled to the contents of the account upon your death. It avoids the risks associated with joint tenancies. You could name one beneficiary or any number and even what portion of the asset each should receive.

An estate planning attorney will have lots of other solutions to your more complicated estate needs.

I use a very basic plan. I have my $142 dollars in an old soup can buried in the back yard. Oops! Don't show this to the IRS.

Mark Walters advises real estate investors from his web pages at

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