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article imageOp-Ed: Don't wait till its too late to set up estate planning Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Apr 19, 2013 in Business
Sonoma - As the Baby-boomer generation ages, no doubt they will need to think about the future of their property and assets after they die. Yet, even while they are alive financial and legal experts agree estate planning is crucial.
On April 18, the community was invited to the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce to listen to a presentation about Estate Planning provided by attorney Erika Copenhaver of Galanti and Copenhaver of Santa Rosa. The hour talk was sponsored by Daren Blonski, a financial advisor with Edward Jones Investments. It is part of a series of talks that are simply to help inform people about issues and topics related to finances that impact their lives.
"This is strictly for your information and we will provide time for questions. This is not a sales presentation and is not intended as such," said Blonski. His only concern that Thursday morning was that helpful information about Estate Planning was made available. More than a dozen people showed up and several had questions even before Copenhaver started speaking. She clarified that Estate Planning is the process of setting your goals and intentions of your wishes to those you want to receive your property and assets. "An Estate" is understood as all of one's earthly or worldly possessions. "There are a number of ways to protect your assets and property not only during a person's lifetime but also after death."
Copenhaver pointed out the difference between a trust and a will. A trust is a private document and a will is a public document. A will is a written document, signed and witnessed. The will indicates how a person's property will be distributed at the time of death. It is revocable and subject to amendment at any time during a person's lifetime. A trust is a relationship whereby property (real or personal, tangible or intangible) is held by one party for the benefit of another.
Terms like "settlor," "trustee," "beneficiary" "fiduciary duty" all these can be explained and defined by an attorney. And, going over the different types of trusts and the best way to set one up for a person is something that should be given a considerable amount of time to discuss and prepare.
One important thing that Copenhaver stressed was that people think carefully when drafting their will and putting together a trust. "Think about not only who will be the beneficiary? But who will be the executor of the will?" An executor is the one who carries out the deceased's wishes. "Many times wills or trusts are mishandled because the executor is not exactly the right person or is clearly not able to handle the responsibility."
It is difficult to think about one's death, especially when surrounded by loved ones or busy with daily life. Yet as Copenhaver noted, it is precisely because of loved ones and the things a person cares about that a person wants to make sure all is in order and clearly understood when death happens.
Wills and trusts should be written clearly and specifically. "Make sure what you want is clearly stated and understood," said Copenhaver. She mentioned that there is so much confusion and upset when people neglect to up-date their will or trust. And, when people do not leave a will at all, then the courts can step in. Court proceedings such as probate not only make things more complicated, but can also be costly. She noted, "25 percent of one's assets can be gone (to attorney fees and such) when probate is involved." Having a will and trust in place, will help to avoid such a circumstance.
Daren Blonski of Edward Jones provided the community with an opportunity to discuss estate planning ...
Daren Blonski of Edward Jones provided the community with an opportunity to discuss estate planning on April 18, 2013 with Erika Copenhaver of Galanti and Copenhaver of Santa Rosa. Copenhaver specializes in Estate Planning, Wills, Trusts, Probate as well as Small Business transactions.
Copenhaver also noted that because tax laws change over time it is important that a person seek the help of an experienced attorney who specializes in wills and trusts. Details about how an Individual Retirement Account or a 401-K is best handled for a will or a trust, an estate planning attorney will be able to help most effectively. Rules and laws about insurance policies, capital gains, dividends, stocks, etc. an estate planner attorney will know all the details. When anything a person might want to include in giving to another, all must be clearly spelled out and designated. An estate planner attorney will help in clarifying all the information.
Copenhaver stressed the importance of seeking out an estate planning attorney. Certainly just about any attorney can help draft up a will or establish a trust. But is that attorney well versed in tax laws especially about estates, wills and trusts? It is critical that an experienced estate planner oversee the preparation of a trust, especially if it is extensive or complicated. "Do-it-Yourself" type of wills are not recommended. And as mentioned before having no will at all will make things very complicated.
Copenhaver again emphasized the importance of really thinking about "who is the best person to be executor" "treat all beneficiaries and recipients fairly and impartially" (think about how your will may impact them), and "make sure your loved ones know where your important documents are." A safety-deposit box is a good place to keep original documents, like a will or trust. Copies should be close at hand, yet it is crucial that documents be in order. "Whenever you have a significant life change," said Copenhaver, such as the purchase or sale of property like a house or land, opening a new business, a marriage, birth of a child or grandchild or the death of a spouse or partner; changes like this should be reflected in an up-to-date will and trust.
Talking to an attorney who specializes in Estate Planning will help in discerning what is best for you (how to set up your trust fund), and also what is realistic. A trust fund must have enough money placed into it to fulfill the wishes of the deceased.
Blonski pointed out that leaving a large sum of money to a loved one is not wise. Doing that can actually cause problems if that person is not prepared or unable to manage such a responsibility. "Typically, any size of an inheritance is gone within 16 to 18 months after the beneficiary has received the sum," said Blonski.
He pointed out that some people just do not know how to manage a significant amount of money and can easily loose it. While it might have been well intended, this defeats the deceased person's wishes for a loved one.
"It is best to perhaps have an inheritance or gift of money, given out over time," Blonski said. "Or, maybe give a bit of that intended money out now as a gift to discern how the loved one will be able to manage the money." No doubt, younger beneficiaries lack experience and will be tempted to spend. Setting up a scholarship or college fund is something to discuss with an estate planner attorney.
Everyone hopes to live a long time, yet death is not a matter of "if" but "when." Copenhaver stressed that the best time to think about one's will or about setting up a trust is now, because tomorrow might be too late.
For more information about Estate Planning and the services attorney Erika Copenhaver provides, call 707-538-6074 or visit the Galanti and Copenhaver, Inc. web site.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about estate planning, estate planning, probate, wills, living trust, per, Galanti and Copenhaver, Daren Blonski, Erika Copenhaver
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