There is nothing an Orange County Trust and Will litigation attorney like me loves more than an estate plan done the wrong way. Poorly drafted plans, ambiguous language, unfunded trusts, it’s all a big mess…and music to my ears.
But you did not set out to create a mess, did you? Of course not. In fact, most people who do estate plans think they are creating a solution not a mess. But solutions take time and forethought to create successfully, whereas messes come from cutting corners. Unfortunately, too many people cut corners when they plan their estate.
To start, estate plans are PLANS. Think about that for a minute, planning means putting together a comprehensive idea on how things will be handled now and in the future. Who will manage your finances, how will your different assets be handled, what documents will control and how will they control? Notice this is more than just creating a Trust. A Trust is a useful tool in any estate plan, but it is just one tool. Just as a hammer is not a house, a Trust is not an estate plan. You should think of a plan as a detailed set of instructions that need to be coordinated using a number of different legal documents and asset titling techniques. All of this must be planned ahead of time and then executed according to the plan. And then maintained as part of the plan. It takes some work, but not too much.
The mistake most people make is they go out and create a Trust…and that’s it. No thought is made as to how assets are titled, what documents will control, who will take over, or what information they will need to know. Half the time, no assets are funded into the Trust, making it an empty vessel that’s not worth the paper it is printed on. This is not a plan, it’s a train wreck. Hello Trust and Will litigator, goodbye peaceful estate plan.
If you really want to plan your estate, then do yourself a favor and engage in real planning. Don’t rely on a single document or a single type of asset to do your planning for you. It takes a comprehensive look at your situation to put together a proper plan.