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Estate Plan Basics - What is an Estate Plan?

Estate plan Basics

One of the first questions that many clients ask of an estate planning attorney is: What is an estate plan? Some clients believe it is a will. Others understand that a complete estate plan is more than a will but they are not sure what that might be.

To put it simply an estate plan is more than just one document, it is a process. During that process the clients work with the estate planning attorney to gather information and examine all of the issues that need to be addressed as part of the final documents. During that process the client and the attorney often uncover issues that the client may not have even contemplated. For example, sometimes a client is a high net worth individual which introduces a number of different complexities. The husband and wife might have children from multiple marriages which might require a more hybrid distribution scheme. Or the client might have a special needs heir that requires additional concern. Each of these concerns require modifications to what might otherwise be a “standard” estate plan. Only an estate planning attorney with experience dealing with these various issues can prepare a plan which adequately deals with these situations.

In any case, at its heart a comprehensive estate plan contains a number of basic documents. Those include, among others:

  • A disposition document that addresses who gets assets, including real estate and personal property. This document could be either a will or trust, depending on the individual circumstances. It could also be multiple trust documents depending on the situations that exist with a particular client;
  • A health care directive that appoints someone to make living and care related decisions in the event of an incapacity or disability;
  • A financial power of attorney which provides for an agent to make decisions on the client’s behalf if there is a disability; and,
  • If a trust was used, a pour over will to ensure that the directives contained in the trust are implemented.

Estate Plan Goals

Although each estate plan is drafted to take into consideration the clients’ situations, there are some basic goals that each client wants to accomplish. Primarily most clients think of the estate plan as instructions for how to dispose of their property. While the estate plan does that, it also does much more. The estate plan also gives guidance for the appointment of a guardian for minor children. It also provides guidance for what types of life saving treatments a client might desire should they be unable to make decisions for themselves. Similarly it can also grant authority to an agent to make financial decisions on behalf of the client in the event there is some type of disability.

It is an understatement to suggest that an estate plan is simply a document listing who gets grandma’s dishes or grandpa’s golf clubs, it is much more. The estate plan is designed to put a client’s wishes into a formal document so that a loved one, family member or even a spouse has some direction for those decisions that must be made when a client reaches the end of his or her life. The estate plan, if done correctly, is designed to give a client’s loved ones peace of mind during a very difficult time. The fact that those decisions have been made, and are properly documented, frequently affords the client a measure of peace as well.

Prepare Your Estate Plan

The attorneys at Penzien & McBride, PLLC assist families throughout the State of Michigan with their estate planning needs. If you are looking for a compassionate professional that can help you through the estate planning process or if you would like additional information about our estate planning services give us a call at (586) 690-4400 or complete our contact us form.