Estate Planning: The FAQs

Estate planning is confusing enough for the average person. But as real estate investors, we have a host of unique concerns on top of the Average Joe/Jane. It’s true that estate planning may be stressful for anyone, but understanding estate planning for REIs is too important to ignore. Luckily, this article’s a stress-free way to learn about the topic.

Death sucks, but let’s just accept it and take a few minutes to get hip to the basics. We’ve even got an educational piece to help you out: “Estate Planning: The How the Why and The Basics” handy for you. Check it out if you feel lost at any point here. We’ll wait for you to re-join us.

Back or already familiar? Great. Let’s dive into our most common estate planning FAQs.

1. Don’t I Have to Be Really Rich to Need an Estate Plan? 

Definitely not. Everyone should create an estate plan for one simple reason. Dying without an estate plan is always more expensive (financially and emotionally) than creating a suitable, appropriate one.. 

Dying alone is expensive. Funerals are costly, any unpaid debts have to be handled, and of course, there’s your grieving family. They’re paying emotionally, spiritually, and with their time. If their time and money matters to you, creating an estate plan will at least give them a roadmap and fewer responsibilities. 

Estate planning is more humane on families and loved ones, as they’re typically the ones having to round up your credit cards, make sure bank accounts get closed, worry about life insurance and the hundreds of other details that accompany death. When you really think about all of these costs together, the amount of money spent on estate planning begins to look like nothing. 

2. Everyone Needs an Estate Plan, So Why Do Investors Have to Do Anything Different? 

Don’t forget that your business is an asset with the ability to literally outlive you, possibly indefinitely depending on its structure. But the reality is simple. Estate planning is how we can direct where anything that matters to us goes when we pass. If you have properties and asset protection structures like liability-limiting entities (LLCs, Series LLCs, Delaware Statutory Trusts, etc.), estate planning just becomes more important.

3. Isn’t a Last Will and Testament Good Enough for Estate Planning?

Again, not at all.  A full estate plan is not the same as a simple “Last Will and Testament.” Lord knows enough misinformation persists in popular culture about these documents. Those cinematic scenes we’ve all scene of some character hand-writing a last will, often upon deathbed or battlefield for dramatic flair are hilariously wrong. First of all, DIY estate planning is a bad idea. Tempting as it is to point out the many problems with these scenes, the most misleading aspect is that it glamorizes the will and makes people think that’s all there is to it.

Here’s the real deal: a will can be part of your estate plan. But you can’t rely on it alone. If you do, you’re likely to have to pass through this unfortunate soul-sucking spot called probate court.

5. What is Probate Court?

Probate Court’s a real drag. Basically, your heirs get to sit around and watch the riveting legal conversations that only the true dorks like us at Royal Legal like. During this process, you’ll be racking up fees for the Court, any attorneys or accountants needed, etc. It’s better to just avoid the whole mess altogether. And presumably to add insult to injury, the pros get paid out long before your heirs do, particularly if you attempt to DIY a will and miss a critical part. Sadly people do this because they see dramatic movie scenes of people penning Wills, etc. That’s a great way to get yourself a one-way ticket to Probate Court.

But you can avoid probate court with a real estate investor-tailored estate plan.

6. What Do Proper Estate Plans for Real Estate Investors Look LIke?

For real estate investors with under $10 Million in assets to defend, there are two fundamental tools that are essential for planning an adequate estate plan that also protects assets in life. These are the pour-over will and living trust. Let’s review both.

The living trust is a much more effective vehicle for conveying your assets directly and tax-efficiently (or even free, occasionally) to your loved ones and other heirs than the traditional “last will and testament.” Remember? That’s movie stuff. If you want real protection, you need a living trust that contains all of your assets and a pour-over will to back it up in the event you acquire assets not yet in the trust. Learn more from our living trust explainer. 

There’s much more to estate planning than these two tools, but they are universal for most plans for the majority of investors. Take the time you need to research. After all, estate planning is how you control where the rewards of your life’s labor go and provide for the ones you love. They’re worth it. 

Scott Royal Smith is an asset protection attorney and long-time real estate investor. He's on a mission to help fellow investors free their time, protect their assets, and create lasting wealth.

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