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by Wayne H. Taylor

The key and central purpose of estate planning is control. The law gives you an opportunity to control who makes the decisions that affect you and your property as well as how your property is managed and distributed for as long as possible—but only if you take advantage of estate planning. If you want your preferences and desires to be respected and enforced when you are no longer able to make decisions or act, the most reliable way of achieving that outcome is to use/hire a licensed, experienced, estate planning attorney to provide advice and quality, comprehensive estate planning documents designed for you.

What is Estate Planning?

Estate Planning involves thinking about, deciding upon, and creating legally valid documents that will provide for the management of your person and estate in the way you desire upon your incapacity and/or death. A complete estate plan includes legal documents such as Advanced Directives (Living Wills and Durable Health Care and Mental Health Care Powers of Attorney) that govern health care decision-making and Durable Powers of Attorney, Wills, and Trusts that govern management and distribution of property and assets.

Do I Own Enough Assets to Need or Benefit from Estate Planning?

An estate is simply everything that you own—so everyone has an estate! As such, estate planning is not only useful and available to millionaires, but to everyone. Unfortunately many people are unaware of the many benefits to themselves and their loved-ones that can come from estate planning both before and after death—benefits such as making the handling of decision-making issues and assets easier and less expensive, reducing both the risk and cost of disputes over personal care and assets, and, most importantly, providing peace of mind. Each of us has the choice to make choices and take action that will most likely secure the benefits of estate planning or to take less than adequate action which ultimately results in loss of control and unanticipated and unwanted outcomes.

Should I Use an Attorney to do Estate Planning?

Yes! Complex state laws govern who has control and decision-making authority over you, your body, and your assets when you become incapacitated (which can occur unexpectedly at any time) or die. Estate planning documents must contain language that not only complies with the law, but that is most likely to achieve your goals and desires. A licensed and experienced estate planning attorney will ensure that your estate plan is: 1) valid; 2) clearly and effectively expresses your intent and wishes; 3) contains current protective language; 4) places you in control of the decision-making process and asset management; and 5) minimizes the effort and cost of probate.

A quality estate planning attorney will seek to understand your concerns, priorities, assets, and wishes. After listening to you, such attorney will openly and honestly discuss with you various options, including the pros, cons, and the estimated current and future costs of each option.
Ideally, the estate planning attorney will provide you with a comprehensive solution that is customized to the types of assets you hold, your personal and family situation, and your specific needs and concerns.

The bottom line is that with a well-thought-out and executed estate plan, you can make life easier and less stressful for you and those you care for upon your incapacity and death.

What Happens Without Estate Planning?

If you fail to plan or your plan fails, the law of Arizona and most states provide a default plan, which is commonly known as “probate.” A probate judge, after determining who has legal priority to manage and distribute your assets, will appoint someone to act on your behalf to manage and finalize your financial affairs, including the distributing your assets. The court oversees the probate process until it is completed in compliance with the law. Court costs, attorney’s fees, and administrative expenses associated with probate reduce the assets available for distribution to your heirs, loved ones, friends, or charities.

Done well, estate planning can have a positive impact on your well-being, your relationships, and your memory/legacy.


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