Do I really need a will or trust? - Possibly not.  There are some individuals who can have a complete planning without need of either.  Usually this applies to individuals with relatively small net worth, or their wealth is concentrated in a single asset such as their home.  One might thing single persons without family have no need of a will, but in fact those people may be most in need.  Otherwise unknown distant relatives may wind up with your property, or even the state itself.  Wouldn't it be better to leave your property to friends or a preferred charity by utilizing a will or trust.

What other approaches are available? - Real estate can be left to others by use of a beneficiary deed.  The deed must be executed and recorded during the owner's lifetime.  The deed may be revoked or changed at anytime prior to death.  Similarly, Missouri allows for the designation of a beneficiary on titled property such as cars or boats.  Use of pay-on-death accounts are available with most brokerages, banks, credit unions and other such money institutions.  Defined contribution retirement plans like 401ks most often also offer a beneficiary designation.  Unless there was no living beneficiary designated thereby leaving the proceeds to the deceased's estate, life insurance proceeds are non-probate assets.

Through using these techniques, it may be possible for an individual to avoid probate entirely, but there are limitations and risks.  There is no room for error.  Rather than everything being centrally located and managed with a unified approach, clients using this approach must make changes on multiple individual documents.  As health and faculties begin fading, this becomes more difficult and is subject to greater improper influence.  There are reasons for the strict rules applied to witnesses and notarized signatures on wills and trusts.

Estate planning is not just for the Elderly or Wealthy. Those two groups are usually very responsible about making plans for the eventuality of death, but they are hardly the only candidates.  Anyone with a positive net worth, particularly those with only distant family should at a minimum draw a will.  Those with on-going small-businesses should include succession planning in addition to the disposition of their personal wealth.  Finally, anyone with dependents has an obligation to prepare for their care.  Young couples with healthy children frequently don't plan or inadequately prepare.  Almost no one does for dependent elderly parents.

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