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Put your trust in the hands of a professional estate planner

One of the many benefits to planning your estate now instead of putting it off into the far future is that you have plenty of time to make changes, should they become necessary. You might get married or divorced, have a child or lose a family member you thought would handle your estate in the event you died. Life events will occasionally require you to make adjustments to your estate plan, but once you have it, the changes are relatively easy, compared to starting from scratch.

Many Californians have trusts as part of their estate plan. A trust holds money, real estate or other property intended for a specific purpose. For example, if you want to leave a large amount of money for a child specifically for college tuition, you could put the funds in a trust, ensuring she doesn't blow that hard-earned cash before she ever walks into a dorm room. Once you fund the trust, it's locked in for the purpose you assign to it.

But since plans change, you have the ability to amend a trust if necessary. Let's say your child turns out to be an exceptional student and is promised a full-ride scholarship to the college of her choice. Since she no longer needs the money for tuition, you may want to change the terms of the trust. You can avoid tossing out the trust wholesale by executing an amendment to it, changing only the details you need to and keeping the rest as-is.

If necessary, you can make multiple amendments over time, but after a handful of them, you may be better off creating a new trust, which is called a restatement. The restatement refers back to the original trust, eliminating the need to transfer the funds from the old trust to the new one.

This is a fairly simple process, but not one that you should attempt to execute yourself. The last thing you want is for an error in your trust to render it invalid after it's too late. Instead, you may want to work with an estate planning attorney to make sure your trust is properly documented and funded. Whatever you deem appropriate for your beneficiaries, they'll be happy you effectively designated funds for them to enjoy.

Source: nwi.com, "ESTATE PLANNING: Trusts are not a do-it-yourself job," Christopher W. Yugo, Jan. 13, 2013

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