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Legal How-To: Deciding Which Estate Planning Tool(s) to Use

By Brett Snider, Esq. on December 09, 2014 10:12 AM

This post was updated on March 31, 2022

Estate planning is complicated by the fact everyone's needs are different. There is no "one size fits all" method for estate planning because everyone has their own arrangements of property, assets, and relationships.

When you embark upon a plan to sort everything out in a way to best benefit your family and loved ones, a good first step is to take a thorough look at your own situation and take stock of what your estate includes. The second step is to decide which legal instruments will work best to help you achieve your goals.

When deciding how to legally protect your estate, start by considering the following:

1. The Value of Your Estate

We know it sounds crass, but if your estate is worth less than a certain amount, then there's very little benefit to having an overly complicated estate plan. For purposes of federal taxes, any estate that is valued at less than $12,060,000 in 2022 is likely to be exempt from estate or inheritance taxes.

You may not even need to pay for probate, although the threshold varies from state to state. With very few tax detriments or probate costs for low-value estates, the easiest solution may just be a simple will. The more valuable assets you leave behind, the more you may need to explore other options.

2. Your Relationship Status

Making estate plans means looking ahead, but it also means taking stock of your life as it is now. If you're single, you won't be as likely to use trusts to care for your surviving children or grandchildren. However, you can still set up a trust for your pets, one to provide for your elderly or ailing parents, or even a special needs trust for a disabled beneficiary.

It is OK — and desirable — to make changes to your estate plan as your life changes (with marriage, kids, etc.). After all, you want your current plan to provide for your loved ones even if you die tomorrow.

3. Your Real Estate and Business Assets

The more real estate and business assets you own, the more legal help you may need to square away your estate. You don't need to wait until you die to place any houses, businesses, and other high-value assets in the legal care of a living trust. When combined with a pour-over will, placing most of your assets in a trust may help simplify how your major investments are managed even after your death.

Need More Help?

Of course, this is just a general overview; there are many more estate-planning tools available such as powers of attorney, health care directives, and others. Many of these tools are available for you to purchase, including those we offer at FindLaw Legal Forms & Services, which you can create from the comfort of your own home. If your needs are more complex, however, an estate planning attorney can help you decide which tools are best for you — at any point in your life.

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