Estate Planning – Where do I begin?

Missouri lawyer Michael Gunn outlines six goals when it comes to estate planning

When people call me because they have finished procrastinating about estate planning, they almost always apologize that it has taken them so long. I remind them that as long as they are still alive and relatively competent, they are right on time.

I list six objectives that most people want to accomplish with estate planning:

  1. They don’t want the estate plan to be structured so that it interferes with their lives now.
  2. If a spouse dies, they want the other spouse to get everything – without probate, if possible.
  3. If they are disabled they don’t want the probate court telling them what to do if they can avoid it.
  4. Upon the death of the survivor of the husband and wife, they want someone who they pick to be there to pay the final bills, sell the house, pay the taxes and then make distribution to whoever is supposed to inherit.
  5. In all of this, they would like to avoid getting the probate court involved.
  6. If there are taxes, they want to avoid them.

Then there is the cost. Well, I remind them of the old FRAM oil filter slogan – “You can pay me now or pay me later.” And, of course, the cost of the estate plan (even though the client is paying it and not the heirs) is almost always going to be substantially less than the cost of probate.

I also warn them about “non-probate” transfers – designations of “payable on death” for accounts or “transfer on death” for titles or “beneficiary deeds” for real estate. These are simple and effective but don’t have any protection for disability before death. And, then there is the use of joint names. I remind the clients that, for the most part, when you add a name to your assets, it is a present gift of an interest and not an after death interest. Also that adding names to real estate is probably a very bad idea for income tax purposes, not to mention having to get that person’s (and the person’s spouse’s) permission to sell the property. And one more thing about simplified estate planning – although death is inevitable, life is vague and, unless you have a crystal ball, who knows who will die first? Actual estate plans fix this.

Best advice – hire a lawyer. Find out about the fees at the beginning and then get it done. Then you can truly “rest in peace.”

Michael P. Gunn of the Gunn Law Firm, P.C.


Michael P. Gunn of The Gunn Law Firm, P.C., in St. Louis has more than 40 years of experience in the practice areas of estate planning, probate and trust administration and litigation and general civil litigation. In addition, he has had an active practice in the areas of business litigation, planning and administration and is a past president of The Missouri Bar.

You may find a lawyer through The Missouri Bar’s free, online Lawyer Search feature. You also may learn more about probate law, including wills, revocable living trusts and advance directives in the bar’s Probate Law Resource Guide available on this website. To order copies of this brochure to be mailed to you, click here.

This information is intended as general information about the law and legal system. It is not to be considered as legal advice for your specific situation.

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