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Estate Planning

Estate planning may be the most overlooked part of financial management. Many people put off even the most basic steps such as drafting a will.  Others will allow their wills to become outdated due to changes in their personal situation or tax laws.

An estate is simply all wealth you have accumulated in your lifetime. This includes real estate, stocks, bonds, business interests, retirement plans, personal effects, and anything else you own or possibly control. It can even include assets you plan to give away.

The two primary goals of estate planning are: the management of your wealth in the lifetime, and the distribution of it at your death.

Your estate’s worth will be figured by finding the “fair market value" of all your real and personal property.  Fair market value is defined as the amount someone would be willing to pay for your property, and that you'd be willing to accept, if neither of you were under any pressure to buy or sell the property.

There are five main estate distribution techniques. They are: intestacy, wills, jointly held property, contracts, and trusts.

The first estate planning method is intestacy, or doing nothing. When you die, the probate court distributes your estate according to the intestacy laws of your state. They will not take into account how you may have wanted your affairs settled. You will have no control over how your estate is distributed. This could result in un-intended distributions, extra fees and taxes, and additional probate expense.

The second technique used to distribute your estate is to draft a will. The will is simply a list of instructions that tells the probate court exactly how you would like your estate distributed.  Properly drafted and executed, a will may help reduce fees and taxes as well as ensuring a smooth probate.

Another distribution method involves jointly held property. This can be in the form of joint tenancy, tenancy in common, or community property. Some states have the type of joint tenancy between spouses called tenancy by the entirety.  Minnesota does not recognize this type of title to property.

You can also use contracts to pass part of your estate. The proceeds from life insurance, annuity contracts, and pensions will automatically pass to whomever you've designated as your beneficiary.

A trust is a legal arrangement under which one person or institution controls the property given by another person for a benefit of the third party. The trust can enable you to control the distribution of your estate. A properly structured, trust can help you reduce or avoid many the fees and taxes that will be imposed upon your death they can also keep your estate of the probate court.

Finding the right attorney to handle your estate can make a tremendous difference for you and your family. You should choose an attorney familiar with all aspects of estate administration.