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A will is all I really need, right?

Let's begin this post with what we think should be a given: Adults, regardless of their level of income or size of estate, should have a will. That so many people in Houston and the surrounding communities don't have even this rudimentary estate planning document in place is disconcerting, especially since it does not take much to create.

However, while a will may be the foundational element of any estate plan, it would be a mistake to think that it represents the peak and pinnacle of possible actions. The array of tools available is broad and can be immensely confusing. That's why it's always wise to consult with an attorney, especially one with demonstrated experience and skill in estate planning matters.

To get a big-picture view of how estate planning can work, it might be useful to think about that Hasbro board game, "The Game of Life." As those who have played it will remember, it starts out with each player in a car headed forward on the road of life.

At this stage of things, you might not be thinking estate. However, even if you have no major responsibilities to others, you still have assets. Maybe it's only a car or a bicycle, but that's something. A will might be all you need to make clear who you'd like your assets distributed if you should die.

As you progress along the game's road, conditions change. You might enter into a relationship with a significant other. Children might enter the picture – even divorce. Assets might now include a home, a newer car and perhaps a boat. Did you take out life insurance policies on each other? Who gets those benefits if they are paid? How much of your assets might be taken by taxes?

The original will might not be sufficient to protect current assets as you'd like. A trust of one kind or another might serve to ensure that funds go to whom you want. A trust may also be preferred as a way to avoid probate issues. Eventually, as we noted in another recent post, a well-crafted trust may even help you cover long-term care costs if that becomes necessary.

In the end, life is not a game. Still, making plans for it can provide you with peace of mind and may even be fun if it's done with the right frame of mind.

Source: FindLaw, "Estate Planning Tips: Find the Right Estate Plan for You," accessed July 20, 2016.

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