Estate Planning

An organized approach to estate planning can bring order to what may otherwise be an overwhelming task. Focus your planning on four elements: the people in your life, the property you own, your plans for the future, and the persons who will assist you in achieving your goals.

The Will as a Cornerstone

A well-planned will is the cornerstone of almost every estate plan. There are other ways to dispose of many types of property. However, if you're like most people, you'll want a will in order to:

  • Distribute possessions not covered by joint ownership arrangements, trusts, or other plans.
  • Dispose of items you may acquire in the future.
  • Distribute properties that you may convert to other forms before death.
  • Back up any plans that may no longer be in existence at the time of death.

Through a will, not only can property be distributed, but provisions can be made for recommending guardians for minor children. You can also provide for the management of assets should a recipient be unable to manage property left to him or her due to age or other factors.

Placing Property in Trust

In many cases, in addition to a will, a trust can help facilitate the management and distribution of property.

Trusts are often established to manage funds for younger persons until they reach an age at which they are able to responsibly manage property.

Under a revocable living trust, you or others may serve as trustee of your property for a time, with a successor appointed to take over management of assets, if necessary. Such an arrangement may provide significant probate expense savings and speed the process of estate settlement.

Such a trust is called a "living" trust since it is established during your lifetime, and "revocable" since you may choose to change or end the trust at any time you wish.

Power of Attorney

It is wise to make provision for someone to handle your financial affairs should you be unable to do so. Under a so-called "power of attorney," property management and disposition rights can be granted to another. Your attorney can provide details.

Joint Ownership

Homes, automobiles, bank and investment accounts, and many other properties may be held jointly with rights of survivorship.

As such, the property passes outside of probate to the survivor upon the death of one joint owner. There is more than one type of joint ownership; make sure the one that applies to any jointly owned property you have is best suited to your needs.

Living Will

Many people use "living wills" to make known how they wish to be treated if ever faced with a terminal illness. A living will tells your physician and others how far you wish to go in having your life prolonged through artificial means. More and more, the living will plays a role in estate plans.

The Charitable Dimension

Many of us would like to make significant gifts to further causes in which we believe. But, of necessity, our own economic security must come first.

To further that desire, you may wish to consider making charitable gifts from assets that remain when you no longer need them. This might be accomplished through a bequest in your will, a remainder interest in a revocable living trust, a beneficiary designation of life insurance or retirement plan proceeds, or a number of other convenient vehicles.

Some people are also surprised to learn that through effective estate planning, it can be possible to make charitable gifts that can help alleviate non-charitable financial concerns.

Income and Asset Management

Charitable gift planning techniques can provide management of assets for you and other loved ones. You may provide for management of assets while providing a fixed or variable income for yourself or others for lifetime or a period of years. At the end of the specified time period, the assets are put to charitable use. A variety of such plans exists.

Tax Advantages

Substantial income, gift, and estate tax benefits can be available through the use of charitable estate planning techniques. Tax deductions can be obtained for gifts completed during lifetime, and assets which will eventually pass to charity will be eligible for estate tax benefits as well.

A Number of Possibilities

Under current economic conditions, it is more important than ever that everyone have an effective estate and financial plan.

Through carefully balancing your needs and those of loved ones and favorite charitable interests, you may find that you can create surprising benefits for all concerned.

Additional information about effective charitable estate planning is available upon request. Please contact Mark Deffenbacher, Executive Director of the FPU Foundation at 559-453-2129 or at mdeffen@fresno.edu.