Skip to content

Commonly Asked Questions Involving the Estate Planning Process

    In the world of estate planning, it is common for questions to arise. Whether you’re just starting to think about estate planning or have a completed estate plan, taking the time to understand the answers to frequently asked questions can offer valuable insights and guidance. In this blog, we’ll explore some of the common questions surrounding estate planning, covering topics such as wills, trusts, executors, and trustees.

    What is estate planning? And why is it important to have a comprehensive estate plan?

    Estate planning refers to the process of organizing and arranging an individual’s assets, properties, and personal finance accounts to ensure efficient management and asset distribution upon an individual’s death. Estate planning involves creating a detailed plan that outlines a person’s wishes for their property, the care of their dependents, and the management of their finances and healthcare. Through the creation of legally binding documents such as wills, trusts, and powers of attorney, individuals can establish a framework that safeguards their assets and provides a roadmap for their loved ones to follow. Estate planning also allows individuals to consider strategies for minimizing taxes, protecting assets, and ensuring a smooth transfer of wealth to future generations. Without an estate plan, the distribution of a person’s assets may be subject to the laws of intestacy, which can result in unintended consequences.

    Additionally, estate planning offers the opportunity to designate guardians for minor children in the event of unforeseen circumstances. By including the appointment of a guardian within an estate plan, individuals can help secure the well-being of their children under the care of a trusted individual of their choice. An estate plan also includes provisions for healthcare and financial decision-making in the event of incapacity. Through the appointment and establishment of a healthcare and financial power of attorney, individuals can help guarantee that reliable individuals are authorized to make crucial medical and personal finance decisions in the event the individual are unable to do so themselves.

    What Documents are Typically Included in an Estate Plan?

    An estate plan typically consists of several key documents, each serving a specific purpose. The following items are examples that may or may not be included in an estate plan, depending on the person’s circumstances:

    • Last Will and Testament: A legal document that outlines an individual’s wishes for the distribution of their assets after passing. This enables individuals to name beneficiaries and specify the desired allocation of their property upon their passing. It typically designates an executor who is entrusted with the responsibility of carrying out the instructions outlined in the Will.
    • Trust: A legal arrangement that holds assets for the benefit of beneficiaries. A trust helps provide great control over the distribution of assets and can help minimize estate taxes and avoid probate. Trusts can be revocable or irrevocable and offer flexibility in managing and protecting wealth.
    • Power of Attorneys: This is a document that grants authority to a trusted person (known as an agent or attorney-in-fact) to act on behalf of the principal. It is typical for an estate plan to include a financial and healthcare power of attorney.
    • Living Will: A Living Will, also known as an Advanced Healthcare Directive, specifically addresses important medical decisions. Serves as a legally binding document that outlines an individual’s preferences regarding life-sustaining treatment, resuscitation, and organ donation in the event of incapacitation. This guides healthcare professionals and loved ones, ensuring an individual’s medical choices align with their personal beliefs and values.
    • Beneficiary Designations: These are forms that specify who will receive assets from certain accounts or policies upon a person’s death. Examples are life insurance policies, retirement plans, and payable-on-death bank accounts. By assigning beneficiaries to personal finance assets through the use of beneficiary designations, individuals ensure a smooth and efficient transfer of assets to the desired recipients.

    How is a Will different from a Trust?

    A Will and a trust are both important components of estate planning, but they differ in several ways. As mentioned above, a Will is a legal document that expresses an individual’s desires concerning the division of their assets upon their passing. It allows individuals to name beneficiaries who will receive specific property or assets and appoint an executor to carry out the instructions of the Will. Upon an individual’s passing, a Will comes into effect and generally is subject to the probate process, which is a legal process overseen by the court. This involves validating the Will, addressing any outstanding debts or claims, and facilitating the distribution of assets in accordance with the individual’s wishes as state in the Will.

    On the other hand, a trust is a legal arrangement that holds assets for the benefit of designated beneficiaries. Unlike a Will, a trust can take effect during an individual’s lifetime (known as a living trust) or after their passing (known as a testamentary trust). With a living trust, a person transfers ownership of assets to the trust and typically serves as the initial trustee, retaining control over the assets. Upon death or incapacity, a successor trustee takes over the management and distribution according to the instructions of the trust.

    The main differences between a Will and a trust include:

    • Probate: A Will is typically subject to the estate administration, which can be a time-consuming and expensive process. Trust properties, however, generally avoid probate and can be distributed privately and efficiently.
    • Asset Distribution: While both a Will and a trust allow an individual to specify how their assets should be distributed, a trust offers additional flexibility and control. With a trust, a person can set specific conditions or restrictions on when and how beneficiaries will receive their inheritance while providing instructions for the ongoing management of assets.
    • Incapacity Planning: A trust can provide for the seamless management of assets in the event of an individual’s incapacity. If an individual becomes unable to handle their financial affairs, the successor trustee can step in and manage the trust properties according to the trust instructions, avoiding the need for a court-appointed guardian or conservator.
    • Cost: Creating a trust can involve higher upfront costs compared to the drafting of a Last Will. However, it’s possible the upfront cost of the drafting of a trust may be offset by the potential savings in probate expenses.
    • Immediate or Lifetime Effect: A Will takes effect upon the individual’s death, while a trust can take effect immediately and continue to operate during an individual’s lifetime and beyond.

    Ultimately, when choosing between a Will and a Trust, individuals should carefully consider their circumstances, goals and personal finance preferences. The decision typically hinges on a factors including the complexity of their assets, the need for ongoing asset management, and the desire to avoid probate.

    What are the Main Roles and Responsibilities an Executor and a Trustee?

    In estate planning, the roles of an executor and a trustee are distinct and carry different responsibilities. Below is an overview comparing the key roles and responsibilities:

    Personal Representative:

    • Probate Administration: This involves filing the Will with the court, gathering and inventorying assets, paying debts and taxes, and distributing assets to beneficiaries according to the terms of the Will.
    • Asset Management: Must safeguard and manage the decedent’s assets. This includes maintaining property, managing investments, collecting income, and making necessary distributions to cover expenses.
    • Communication with Beneficiaries: Responsible for keeping beneficiaries informed about the progress of the estate administration, addressing their questions and concerns, and providing an accounting of the estate’s financial activities.
    • Legal and Financial Obligations: Must comply with all obligations, such as filing tax returns, paying estate taxes, and settling any outstanding debts or claims against the estate.


    Assuming the role of a trustee for a trust involves responsibilities and duties that are instrumental in managing and administering the trust according to the grantor’s intentions. Below is a brief overview of the responsibilities of a trustee:

    • Trust Administration: The trustee is responsible for administering a trust according to the terms outlined in the trust document. This includes management, making investment decisions, and ensuring that the trust’s objectives are met.
    • Asset Management: Must prudently manage the assets, protect them, and make informed investment decisions in the best interest of the beneficiaries.
    • Distribution of Trust Assets: The trustee is responsible for distributing to the beneficiaries as outlined in the trust document. This may involve making periodic distributions, distributing specific assets, or following specific instructions for distribution.
    • Fiduciary Duty: A trustee has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the beneficiaries, exercising care, loyalty, and impartiality in managing the trust estates.
    • Record Keeping and Reporting: The trustee is responsible for keeping accurate records of all trust transactions, providing regular accountings to the beneficiaries, and maintaining transparency in trust administration.

    It’s important to note that the roles can sometimes overlap. For example, if a person has both a Will and a trust, the executor of the Will may also serve as the trustee of the trust. It’s important to understand the specific roles and responsibilities associated with each position and ensure that the right individuals are appointed to fulfill those duties.

    legal document power of attorney

    What is a Power of Attorney? And Why is it an Important Part of an Estate Plan?

    This is a legal document that grants someone else (known as the agent or attorney-in-fact) the authority to represent in managing your financial, legal, or healthcare matters. Below is a list of benefits of including a POA documentation in an estate plan:

    • Decision-Making in Incapacity: Crucial in the event an individual becomes incapacitated or unable to make decisions for themselves. Power of attorney documentation empowers the appointed agent to decide on an individual’s behalf, ensuring their affairs’ management during incapacitation.
    • Financial Management: Grants the agent the authority to handle financial matters, such as managing bank accounts, paying bills, and making investment decisions.The language enables the agent to manage assets, handle tax matters, and fulfill all obligations.
    • Legal Representation: It can authorize the agent to engage in legal transactions on an individual’s behalf, such as signing contracts, filing tax returns, or managing real estate transactions. This can be particularly useful if a person is unavailable or unable to handle legal matters personally.
    • Health care Decision-Making: A health care POA, also known as a health care proxy empowers the agent to make medical decisions on an individual’s behalf if they are unable to do so. They ensure a person’s healthcare preferences and wishes are honored and a trusted individual can advocate for their medical treatment.

    Including a this in your estate plan ensures that you have designated a trusted individual to act on your behalf in important financial, legal, and health care matters. It offers control and protection, allowing for the management of your affairs according to your wishes, even during your incapacity.

    What Are Estate Planning Strategies to Minimize Estate Taxes?

    Estate planning strategies enable minimizing estate taxes and maximizing the wealth transfer to beneficiaries. While the specific strategies will depend on an individual’s circumstances, below are some common estate planning techniques aimed at reducing estate taxes:

    • Lifetime Gifts: One strategy is to make lifetime gifts to beneficiaries during an individual’s lifetime. There are lifetime and annual gift tax exclusions and exemptions that allow an individual to transfer a certain amount of assets without incurring gift taxes. By gifting assets before death, a person can reduce the overall value of their estate and potentially decrease the estate tax liability.
    • Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT): An ILIT specifically holds life insurance policies outside an individual’s taxable estate. Transferring the policy to an ILIT, as the owner and beneficiary, ensures the proceeds go to the ILIT. This removes life insurance proceeds from the individual’s gross estate.
    • Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT): A QPRT allows an individual to transfer their primary residence to an irrevocable trust while retaining the right to live in the property for a specific period. By transferring the property at a reduced value, an individual can remove the future appreciation of the primary residence, potentially reducing estate taxes.
    • Charitable Giving: Charitable giving can help reduce estate taxes while supporting causes you care about. Donating assets to qualified charitable organizations, establishing charitable trusts, or creating a private foundation can provide estate tax deductions and remove assets from an individual’s taxable estate.

    At What Times and in What Situations Should I Review my Current Estate Plan?

    Regularly reviewing and updating an estate plan is crucial because circumstances, goals, and the relevant laws may change over time. Below is a list of situations where it would make sense to review a current estate plan:

    • Changes in Personal and Financial Situations:  Significant life events, like marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, or a loved one’s death, might require plan updates. Similarly, financial changes such as starting a business, or retiring, call for revisions to keep your plan current.
    • Evolving Laws and Regulations:  Estate planning laws and regulations can change, potentially impacting your plan. By staying informed and regularly reviewing your plan, you ensure compliance with the latest legal requirements. This approach maximizes effectiveness and minimizes risks of unintended consequences.
    • Changes in Goals and Priorities: As personal goals and priorities evolve, it’s vital to update your estate plan to reflect these changes accurately. Regular discussions with your estate planning attorney ensure that your plan aligns with your updated values and objectives.
    • Relocation to a Different Jurisdiction: Moving to a new state or country necessitates revising your estate plan to align with local legal standards. Since estate planning laws differ by jurisdiction, it’s important to validate and tailor your estate plan for effectiveness in your new locale.

    Estate Planning With The Law Office of Josh Krieg

    The Law Office of Josh Krieg, LLC is available to offer assistance for any inquiries regarding a current estate plan or the establishment of a new estate plan. We comprehend the complexities and importance of estate planning and commit to providing the necessary guidance and expertise. Located in Fort Collins, Colorado, we proudly offer comprehensive remote services to clients in Colorado, Wyoming, and North Dakota. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and experience our professional and personalized approach to the law.