Marshalling or gathering the assets: Regardless of whether we are administering a plan I wrote or one prepared by another lawyer, the first step in the process is to find out what assets will pass by reason of the decedent’s death, and how were they titled. Every asset needs to be looked at separately. One might be in joint tenancy, another might have a beneficiary designation like a life insurance policy. Still another might be in the living trust, and others may be in the decedent’s name. The administration process will be dictated by how each asset is titled at death.
Regardless of how the assets are titled IT IS CRITICALLY IMPORTANT THAT YOU DO NOT MOVE ANY ASSETS UNTIL YOU CONSULT WITH US. There may be adverse consequences with regards to taxes, probate, and lawsuit protection if you move the assets yourself.
The documents we create will depend on the goals that are developed in Step One. They usually include the Living Trust, Powers of Attorney for Health Care and Property, a “Pour-Over Will” that names your trust as beneficiary just in case an asset is found outside your trust, etc. There are approximately 12 documents in an “essential” estate planning portfolio.
Depending on your goals there may be other entity planning such as a Retirement Plan Trust and a Limited Liability Company for protection against lawsuits.
Signed documents do not an estate plan make. If you create a living trust and leave an asset in joint tenancy then the asset will pass by right of survivorship, not under the terms of your trust. The trust protections will have been lost.
Funding is a critical step. Without it, you can die with a living trust and still end up in probate court.