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Estate planning: keeping the family harmony alive

We have all heard or read about stories in Michigan and elsewhere involving families in disputes over a relative's death and what he or she would have 'wanted.' Without a solid estate plan, including a will or trust it can be difficult to know, let alone prove in probate court, what the deceased would have wanted. Many families in Michigan and around the country may not think they have an estate worth planning ahead for, but you would be wrong.

Estate planning is not just for those nearing end of life stages, but for all ages and estates of every size. There are a number of questions to ask yourself when planning for the future, including who your heirs are and how you want to pass along family heirlooms and other property and assets. When you work hard for all that you have accumulated you want to ensure those you want to benefit from your hard work actually do.

When an estate plan is done right you can plan ahead to reduce inheritance taxes, court fees and you can mitigate any potential for disputes among your heirs. The first thing you want to do is generate a list of your assets. Next is a list of your beneficiaries and then decide who you want to receive what and how. The how part can include various strategies, such as placing assets into a trust with the goal of minimizing any taxation while maximizing the value of the assets in the trust.

Another benefit to planning ahead is you can keep your estate issues private by avoiding the potential for your wishes to be contested. You can also ensure your favorite organizations are thought of when you pass, including gift planning and donations. By using an estate planning attorney in your region, you are able to ensure all aspects are considered, including what happens to that antique-looking vase in the attic that may be worth a small fortune.

An estate planning attorney will ask the necessary questions, including whether or not any of your beneficiaries have any special needs and how your life insurance is set up. An attorney can also ensure that your assets are handled properly during your lifetime as well as upon your passing. With the help of a financial planner and estate law attorney you can ensure your wishes are followed now and well into the future.

Source: Courier-Post, "Start estate plan with questions," Joel Steele, July 21, 2012

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