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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Dyches

Maximizing Your Estate: 10 Insider Tips You Need to Know

Making plans for your assets and wealth after death isn’t anyone’s definition of a good time. Yet the alternative—having your personal property distributed through probate court—is a far worse logistical and emotional nightmare, especially if there’s a house involved.

Americans nevertheless are resistant to getting their affairs in order. A survey by indicates less than half—42 percent—of adults in the U.S. have prepared estate planning documents such as a will or living trust. Moreover, according to research by the University of Pennsylvania, only 29.3 percent of Americans have a healthcare directive specifying their end-of-life wishes. 

An artfully crafted estate plan that reflects your legacy is not just for the wealthy and famous but anyone who could foreseeably go through the probate process.

1. Whatever you do, make clear plans for your house.

Of all the things you want to pass on to your heirs, your home is likely the largest and most important.

Know that if you don’t put your home in your will, set up a living trust, or include the words “transfer on death” or “joint right of survivorship” in your deed, be aware that your kids (or whoever you want to pass the house on to) won’t even be able to clean your home until the court appoints an executor.

2. Understand the downsides of probate.

Probate court serves to establish the validity of a will and process the settling of debts and distribution of assets, investments, business interests and property for the deceased. Probate varies from state to state, but every state has probate and experts agree helping your family avoid as many costs and delays of this process as possible is the best way to go.

First of all, probate is costly and will immediately devalue an estate. Depending on the state, probate will cost roughly 5 percent of the decedent’s estate—on a $1 million estate, that’s roughly $50,000 in expenses.

Secondly, probate can take years to conclude depending on familial circumstances.

Finally, what happens in probate is a public matter. That means anyone off the street can trifle through documentation outlining all of your assets and financials, including outstanding debts and the names of those who will inherit your assets.

A will-based estate plan will be filed with the probate court; however, your estate plan can be made private with the creation of a revocable living trust (there may be other privacy options depending on your state), which allows you to appoint a trustee to handle your debts and assets should you become incapacitated or die.

3. Plan for contingencies.

They say in life you should always have a backup plan. The same is true after you die.

Consider multiple contingencies in estate documents—which might mean planning for unlikely and unimaginable scenarios, such as a child trustee dying before the author of the estate plan. It’s always a good idea to name several backup trustees and, as a final resort, a professional or financial institution.

4. Don’t forget about personal items that don’t hold objective value.

Whether it be a family heirloom, a collection, a book of photographs or journal filled with memories, we all have items that are significant to us but wouldn’t necessarily look important to someone else. Your estate plan gives you the opportunity to not only think about the big stuff but also to put in writing all the little things that you’d like carried out in a certain way.

5. Tailoring Palliative Care through Advanced Healthcare Directives

The Center to Advance Palliative Care defines palliative care as “specialized medical care for people with serious illness … focused on providing relief from symptoms and stress of a serious illness.” Palliative care, as defined by the Center to Advance Palliative Care, is specialized medical care aimed at providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. It’s not merely about withholding treatment, but rather ensuring quality of life by managing pain, nausea, and other debilitating symptoms.

Consider the case of Dr. James, a pediatric oncologist who understood the importance of specific, patient-centered care. Applying this understanding to his own life, he used an advanced healthcare directive to specify his wishes, ensuring his comfort and dignity were maintained in his own terms, such as specifying nutritional preferences or the simple comfort of ice chips if unable to eat.

6. Streamlining Digital Legacies for Easy Family Access

In today’s digital age, the consolidation of online accounts and clear instructions for accessing them posthumously is crucial. Gone are the days of sifting through paper; instead, we navigate encrypted digital vaults. Consolidating your digital footprint during your lifetime not only simplifies the process for your loved ones but also secures your digital legacy.

Creating a roadmap of online accounts within your estate plan, without compromising security, can provide a clear guide for your family, minimizing stress during difficult times.

7. Navigating the Tax Landscape to Protect Your Legacy

Recent changes in the federal tax code have significantly increased the estate tax exemption limits, now allowing up to $11 million to be transferred without federal estate tax implications. While this might seem irrelevant for many, for those in the healthcare industry with substantial assets or business ownership, strategic planning can save millions.

For instance, in states like Oregon, where the estate tax exemption is capped at $1 million, understanding and planning around these nuances can protect your estate from excessive taxation, ensuring more of your legacy is passed on to your loved ones.

8. Ensuring All Accounts Have Designated Beneficiaries

Regularly checking that all your accounts, including IRAs, 401(k)s, and insurance policies, have current beneficiaries is a simple yet often overlooked aspect of estate planning. Life events such as mergers or transitions from paper to digital can lead to discrepancies. Proactively managing these details can prevent future legal headaches and ensure your intentions are honored.

9. Adapting Estate Plans Following Major Life Events

Life is dynamic, and any major change—be it marital, financial, or professional—should prompt a review of your estate plan. A common oversight, such as failing to reinstate a home into a trust post-refinancing, can lead to complicated probate processes. Regular reviews with a professional can safeguard your assets from such pitfalls.

10. The Value of Professional Guidance in Estate Planning

While DIY online estate planning tools are available, they cannot substitute the personalized advice and experienced insight that a skilled estate attorney can offer. An adept attorney can interpret not just the letter of the law but the nuances of your personal situation, ensuring your estate plan fully reflects your wishes and provides optimal protection and efficiency.

At Aegis Lion, LLC, we combine deep legal expertise with a personalized approach to ensure your estate planning meets your specific needs, protecting both your professional achievements and personal assets. Contact us today to ensure your legacy is as well-cared for as your patients.

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