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Financial Wellness Tips on Trusts, Probate, and Wealth Transfer

Financial Wellness Tips on Trusts, Probate, and Wealth Transfer

Let’s face it. No one wants to talk about dying, funerals, and wills. It’s not exactly a light-hearted conversation facing your own mortality or a comfortable one to have with your family. 

However, we need to tackle these things head on (#adulting). It makes your loved ones’ lives easier when your last wishes are clearly and legally laid out.

It’s also overwhelming to think about all the nitty gritty details of how to put together your wishes. Thankfully, there are professionals who can help with the heavy lifting.

Attorneys Ellen Keller and Whitney Ellison of Keller, Barrett & Higgins recently broke down these awkward topics in a digestible, easy to understand manner. Here are some top tips and takeaways to help get the conversation started. 

Wealth Transfer: Set Yourself Up for Success

Almost 70% of family wealth transference and business succession plans fail, according to studies cited by Victor Preisser and Roy Williams. This is due to a lack of post-transition planning or preparation. Here’s how to avoid that.

  • Seek competent help! 
      1. Contact an attorney at a law firm like Keller, Barrett & Higgins and talk with your financial advisor. They can work in tandem with you to make sure that your proverbial ducks are in a row.
  • Utilize a document location system.
        1. Whether it’s digital or a fire-proof safety box (or both), all of your important documents should be housed in one place that is accessible. Note, safety deposit boxes can be difficult to access after death so make sure you have a trusted second or third party (if you’re married) who has access to it.! Please note, originally signed Wills are required if there is a probate estate administration, thus a digital copy is not sufficient. All other documents, including a Trust, can be digitally kept, though. 
  • Figure out how you want your assets distributed.
        1. Do your children get your estate? Friends? Charity? Spouse? Siblings? Niece? There’s A LOT to consider. You need to rationalize who gets what, when, and how. Beyond money, there’s real estate, vehicles, stocks and bonds, heirlooms and smaller assets like household goods. With so many details, go back to step 1. Competent help can make sure you’re not forgetting anything and make sure that “who gets what” is set up right.
  • If you have minor children, nominate the right back-up Guardian in your Will.
        1. The Will is where your Guardian nomination for minor children is established and located. You will want to pick someone who is willing to step up to this job, in the unlikely event you (and/or the other biological or adopted parent) are no longer alive. If you have minor children, you need to have a Will, if for no other reason than this. The Probate Court will give deference to your Guardian nominees when reviewing options for your minor children. This is exteremely important, as the Judge ultimately has the final say in who is appointed and approved. 
  • Appoint the right Trustees and/or Executors and then prepare and educate heirs.
        1. You need to spend time picking the right people who can execute your final wishes. Keep in mind their “financial personality” and if they can handle the responsibility. Then you need to talk to them. Educate them on exactly how you want your assets divided, and who you’ve nominated as Guardians in your Will for minor children. It may be awkward but it’ll set you all up for success at the end of the day.
  • Make it happen and review.
      1. Set up your Trust. Get your Will in order. Appoint transfer on death beneficiaries in your financial assets. Laws change. ssets change. People have more children. Parents pass away. Divorce happens. Review your plan every couple of years to make sure it’s all up to date. 

    The actual documents behind these tips include trusts and wills. Read below for highlights on their differences and how they can be beneficial. 

    Trusts and Wills: What to Know

    Both Wills and Trusts are essential components of estate planning; however, there are nuances and differences to them. Below is a high-level overview. Contact an attorney for more information.

    A Revocable or Living Trust is a legal arrangement in which a Trustee holds and manages assets on behalf of beneficiaries according to the terms specified in the Trust document. Here are some key features of Trusts:

      1. Asset Management: Revocable Trusts allow you to transfer assets to a Trustee during your lifetime or upon your death. The trustee has a legal obligation to manage the assets for the benefit of the beneficiaries according to the trust's instructions.
      2. Privacy: Unlike Wills, which can become public record if an estate requires  Probate Court administration, Trusts offer privacy because they do not go through the probate process. 
      3. Flexibility: Trusts offer greater flexibility than wills in terms of asset management and distribution. For example, you can specify conditions for distributing assets to beneficiaries, such as reaching a certain age or achieving specific milestones.
      4. Responsible Inheritance Arrangements: Trusts allow for the Grantor(s) (person signing and establishing the Trust) to create an inheritance schedule that ensures young and minor beneficiaries are receiving their assets at an appropriate age, and in appropriate timing, and their needs (such as education and housing) are cared for privately until that age is reached. This is done outside the reach of the Probate Court.
      5. Revocable Trusts are not Tax Shelters for Estate Taxes: There are different types of Trusts you can establish if you need a Tax Shelter from Estate Taxes. A Revocable or Living Trust is not one of them. The good news is, most of us will not have to worry about designing an estate plan to shelter us from estate taxes, as the current Estate Tax Threshold is just under $14 million/individual. This is set to sunset at the end of 2025, and the threshold will drop to $5.6 million/individual, which is significantly less, but still doesn’t apply to the majority of us. If it applies to you, contact an attorney to set up a plan that works for your circumstances.


    A Will is a legal document that outlines your wishes regarding the distribution of your assets and the care of your minor children upon your death. It’s basically an instruction sheet for the Probate Court. Here are some key features of Wills:

    1. Asset Distribution: Wills specify how your assets, such as property, investments, and personal belongings, will be distributed among your beneficiaries after your death. You can name specific individuals or organizations as beneficiaries. If you have a Trust, your Will will be what is known as a “pour over” Will, in which any probate assets will be “poured” into your Trust, as the sole beneficiary, to ensure all assets are responsibly distributed pursuant to Trust instruction. A Will and Trust are partners in Estate Planning. You can have a Will without a Trust, but it is not a good idea to have a Trust without a Will. 
    2. Executor: A Willappoints an Executor - someone you trust to carry out the instructions in your Will. The executor is responsible for managing your estate, paying debts and taxes from the estate assets, and distributing the residual assets according to your wishes.
    3. Probate: If you die with a Will, your estate is “testate.” In the eyes of the probate court, the Will is the instruction sheet from the decedent (deceased person) about who is in charge, what Guardians (if needed) have been nominated, and where the assets go. The original Will is required to be filed with the Court if a Probate Estate Administration needs to be opened. If a person dies without a Will, and there are probate assets, the estate is known as “intestate,” and the individual appointed to be in charge is called an “Administrator” as opposed to an “Executor.”Probate can be time-consuming, expensive, and potentially delay the distribution of assets to beneficiaries. 

    Remember you don’t know what you don’t know. At the end of the day, you need experts who you can trust to make sure your affairs are in order! Keller, Barrett & Higgins can help determine what works best for you and your loved ones. Connect with them here and on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

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