What is Estate Planning

Estate planning is, at its simplest form making decisions in advance on whom to leave your property and assets to at your death.  The simple definition is not what estate planning really is, nor what we want it to be though.  Estate planning is much more.  In fact, estate planning composes more than most people even realize it can.

Estate Planning Definition

So, what does estate planning really mean?  A more accurate definition for our clients is that we want them to:

Control their property while they’re alive and well,

Plan for themselves and their loved ones if they become disabled,

Then give what they have to whom they want, when they want, in the way that they want,

All while ensuring that their wishes are met.

We call the above definition the “stages of your estate”.  Those stages are:

  1. Alive and Well
  2. Disability
  3. Avoiding Probate
  4. Inheritance Protection

So, what do you want to have?  Peace of mind, and control.  While you are alive and well, you want to control your property (who doesn’t?!).  But, for many in Missouri, proper estate planning during your lifetime also comes with certain protections for you from creditors.

Control during disability is what many people don’t realize can be achieved with proper planning.  Rather than a family needing to go to probate court to get guardianship if you become disabled, which might involve the guardian being someone you DON’T want, or having a simple power of attorney with no instructions, retaining control during disability is possible, and it means making decisions in advance.  We help clients make those decisions, allowing THEM to control who decides they are disabled.   Allowing them to leave instructions about what life should look like if they become disabled, and also who should be making decisions for them should they become disabled.

Control also means what happens to you if you are in the hospital.  Not disabled mentally, but about those “end of life” issues that many people want to avoid talking about.  Who will make health care decisions, and do they have the proper instructions for what you want if the end is near and you can’t communicate your desires?

Avoiding probate goes back to the “simple” definition of estate planning.  You want to avoid probate, just like everyone, because it’s expensive and time consuming.  And avoiding probate many times means avoiding family fights.

Finally, what about protecting inheritances?  What does that mean?  In the past, it mostly has meant protecting your loved ones from themselves when they inherit money.  The “spendthrift” kid who will “waste the money”.  But, as estate planning has evolved, protection most times means how can we protect the money from the outside world?  So that your loved ones can inherit money, still choose when to use it, but make sure that “outsiders” do not take it.  That means protecting it from catastrophic creditors (car accidents, bankruptcies, etc.), divorcing spouses, medical catastrophes, nursing home costs, and much more.  We find that clients want to leave their loved ones in the best position possible when they receive the inheritance that they have worked so hard during their lives to accumulate.

Estate planning is much more than passing my belongings and assets to my loved ones.  It can be overwhelming to think about, and plan without trusted advisors to help.  We are here to help clients navigate the issues, and guide them to a plan that gives them peace of mind, and that works for them and their family.

If you have questions or need guidance in your planning or planning for a loved one, please don’t hesitate to contact our St. Charles, Missouri office by calling (636) 757-3850.

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