Top 5 Estate Planning Tools

These are the top 5 Estate Planning tools:


The Will is the mother to all other estate planning documents.  You can designate a personal representative of your estate, direct assets, and nominate guardians and conservators for minor children. Unfortunately, a Will is a very important instruction manual for a Judge. A Will must be probated, before a Judge, in Probate Court. Meaning, if your Will indicates that your daughter gets the house, daughter must obtain a court order before she can sell the house.

Joint Ownership

The name says it all, jointly owning property with someone. For example, your house. Perhaps you own your home with your spouse.  If one of you were to pass-away the other would then own the home outright. No Court, no fees, no mess. But be careful as there are different forms of 'joint ownership'.

Beneficiary Designation

On most of your bank and investment accounts you can list beneficiaries. This is often a forgotten estate planning tool, or one that you are utilizing and don't realize. It is an agreement you have with your financial institution whereby you designate a beneficiary (on a written form, and a copy of which you should have).  Upon your death and showing of a death certificate, and verification of the beneficiary, your beneficiary should become the owner of the account. But before your beneficiary 'cashes out' the account, they need to understand the tax implications.


In Michigan, a Trust is a legal document that avoids probate court.  If you draft a Revocable Trust, and fund the Trust, you maintain control over the Trust and your assets during your lifetime. You can name beneficiaries, divide up your assets, give to loved ones, charities, schools, or even your pets. A Trust is a great tool when you have minor children as it allows the flexible distributions of assets and aides in reducing tax implications.

Power of Attorney

A legal document drafted granting financial and legal power to someone in the event of your incapacitation. A similar document, the Patient Advocate, is a 'medical power of attorney', giving someone authority to make medical decisions on your behalf in the event of incapacitation.

Now consider the top 5 things to do before you die.