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With so many options, where do you start your estate planning?

There are a lot of options available in estate planning, and readers may understandably not know what to choose. What's important to remember is that most choices are not mutually exclusive. Said another way, a comprehensive estate claim may contain several tools, including a last will and testament, one or more trusts, an advanced health care directive, and a financial power of attorney.

In our experience, we have found that a last will and testament is often a good place to start. This document starts the discussion about property and assets, beneficiaries, and the timing of transfers after the owner passes. If an individual wants some restrictions on the timing of the asset transfers, this discussion naturally flows into selecting one or more trusts.

In broad terms, a trust allows an individual to instruct when and how a beneficiary will receive a distribution from the trustee.  For example, if a beneficiary has a disability or requires long-term health assistance, a special needs trust might call for disbursements over a long period of time. A trust can also empower a trustee to make disbursements in specified emergency situations, such as a health crisis.

Yet trusts do not have to be only for the beneficiaries' benefit. A living revocable trust allows an individual to retain control over all trust assets during the owner's lifetime, becoming irrevocable only after the owner's passing.

Finally, estate planning can also address powers of attorney and end-of-life decisions. A durable power of attorney covers financial decision-making, and a power of attorney for health care covers medical decisions.

Source: FindLaw, "Virginia Estate Planning Laws," copyright 2017, Thomson Reuters

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