Many people believe they don’t have enough in assets to warrant the need for an estate plan, but if you have a car, a bank account, a house, life insurance policy, and/or retirement account, you need a plan. Here are some of the things to consider to maximize the value of the assets you do have and make informed decisions while you are alive to benefit your heirs and beneficiaries after your passing.


  1. Make a plan. The most common estate planning mistake is not having a plan. We’re all going to eventually leave this Earth, so it’s important to thoughtfully lay out how you want your personal and financial affairs handled when the inevitable happens. Think about the “Big Picture” that would certainly include provisions for your family, but don’t forget minor children, loved pets, artwork, digital and other assets you wish to protect and pass on.
  2. Get help with the plan. Especially if you have significant assets, you need a professional estate planner to walk you through the process and provide the expertise to protect your wealth now and for generations to come . . . if that is your plan.
  3. Update the plan. Life is full of changes — births, deaths, marriages, divorces, property acquisitions, and others — each needing updating in the estate plan, as they occur, to ensure the assets left behind are dealt with as you intend.
  4. Plan for disability. As we get older, we’re more prone to some kind of disability or incapacity. If you need long-term care, it’s important to determine who will oversee your personal and financial affairs, including raising your children, making healthcare decisions, and handling legal matters. You need to appoint a power of attorney and/or create a living trust in the event you’re unable to do things for yourself. Make certain you have detailed your healthcare directives, as well.
  5. Put your insurance in a trust. Setting up a special trust can help avoid heavy estate taxes, if you have a taxable estate or if the proceeds for your intended beneficiaries are not already placed into your living trust.
  6. Give back. Monetary gift giving is a terrific way to give back to a person, cause or organization of importance to you. Further, charitable contributions can effectively reduce the tax on your estate, leaving greater gifts for your charities and other beneficiaries.
  7. Take the federal exemption. Create an exemption trust for each spouse to ensure you don’t lose the hefty federal exemption, when either dies.
  8. Don’t gift the house. If you’re thinking about giving the family home to your child before you die, don’t. The value of the home as a gift could lead to a substantial tax burden for your child and creditor exposure for you. If the home is inherited, the new owner would be protected.
  9. Choose an impartial executor. Spouses and other family members may be too personally invested in your estate to handle it impartially, when you die. Explore how a professional advisor, who does not have a stake in your estate, can manage the many, often complicated details in carrying out your wishes.
  10. Don’t wait. Most people recognize an estate plan has multiple benefits for individuals and families while they are living and after they are gone, but many of these same folks will often wait until an unexpected death or disability occurs to set up the plan.

At Terri Hilliard, PC, we are experienced in legal, financial, and tax matters affecting estate planning. We can advise you on effective strategies based on your particular needs and desires to help you minimize your tax burden and enhance the value of your estate. Contact us at 805-201-2552 or e-mail