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chapter 2

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO GET OUT OF YOUR ESTATE PLAN?

Before you sit down to create your estate plan, first ask yourself this question: what's important to me?

Do you want to donate to a favorite charity? Do you have strong religious beliefs about your healthcare decisions? Are you hoping to pass on a treasured possession or a family property? Who do you want to run the family business? Would you like to provide for your grandchildren? And what if they aren't even born yet? What do you do then?

A complete estate plan can account for the answers to all those questions and many more. By creating a unique, personal estate plan, you get to make sure that you make these decisions, not the federal and state government.

We'll start by looking at how best to distribute your assets.

What's Better: a Will or a Trust?

Before we answer this question, it's important to note that every estate plan should have a Last Will and Testament. It's the foundational document in your estate plan and can deal with certain issues--like child guardianship--that a Trust simply cannot. 

When we're talking about distributing your assets, that's when you'll want to make a choice between a Last Will and Testament or a Trust. Generally, Trusts are more costly and more time consuming, but they can allow your heirs to skip probate, which is a time consuming legal process that involves courts examining your estate and sometimes keeping your assets out of your heirs' hands for months. 

Wills, meanwhile, are easier to create and amend. It's always recommended you talk with an estate planning attorney to figure out exactly what's right for you.

Here's a chart showing some of the major differences between a Will and a Trust:
Can I...Last Will & TestamentTrust  
Name beneficiaries for my property?yesyes
Name guardians for my children?yesno
Leave property to my children?yesyes
Avoid probate court? noyes
Make changes to an existing version?yesyes
Keep this document private?noyes
Appoint someone to execute the document?yesyes
Leave final wishes in this document?yesno
Make this document online?yesyes

There are different rules about how to sign these documents as well. With a Will, you'll need to sign it in front of witnesses (usually two, though this varies by state). Creating a Trust, on the other hand, means you'll need a notary's stamp of approval.

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