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People spend their entire lives investing and collecting assets so their families may live in a comfortable lifestyle. However, one of the biggest mistakes people make is failing to protect those same items they worked so hard to earn.

The problem is that many people simply do not know how to set up an estate plan or how to tailor one to their unique wishes or needs. Luckily, help is available for those looking to set up an estate plan, as well as people needing to update one to reflect their current situation.

Steps to a Solid Estate Plan

The first step to creating an estate plan is to learn about the tools available to help protect assets, minimize taxes or penalties, and ensure your final wishes are carried out. For example, wills are excellent for bequeathing property to your heirs, protecting your family and leaving instructions to those you leave behind.

Additionally, wills allow people to select a guardian who will look after their children once they pass, and also designate someone to make health care decisions on your behalf.

A will, however, is one of the more basic estate planning tools, and often more advanced planning is needed when taxes are other factors are taken into account. For example, wills must pass through probate, which is a public process designed to certify a will's validity and something many hope to avoid.

Trusts avoid probate entirely and can be either revocable or irrevocable. Revocable trusts, often known as living trusts, are created so a person can avoid probate yet remain in control of the trust's assets. This particular tool, however, does not offer the same tax advantages as an irrevocable trust. Irrevocable trusts avoid estate taxes because ownership legal ownership resides with the estate, rather than the deceased, at time of death.

In addition, special needs trusts are available for parents with a disabled child and philanthropists might be interested in learning about charitable trusts.

Moving Forward With Your Estate Plan

The most important thing with any estate plan is to make your wishes as clear as possible, while taking advantage of as many tax or other benefits as possible. This, unfortunately, can often be difficult as estate planning documents can be quite complex.

Speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to create a valid and enforceable estate plan that will protect yourself, your property and your family now and in the future.