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The Basics of Estate Planning

Updated: Oct 4, 2021

I’m Debie Stewart, an attorney at SKV Legal, and I want to give you some basic information about estate planning and asset protection.

In essence, estate planning is the process of protecting your assets from creditors, minimizing taxes, preparing for death, or all three. So, an estate plan is the documentation memorializing that preparation. This can seem like a complex subject. However, because death and taxes are unavoidable, having a good, comprehensive estate plan can shield your hard-earned assets from creditors, minimize your tax implications, and make your inevitable passing much more seamless for those you leave behind.

A basic estate plan in Utah will usually consist of the following documents:

  • A Will. Wills direct what will happen with your assets once you pass away, state who should inherit what, and appoint an Executor of your estate. Or, if you have a Trust, then your will would transfer any residual property into your Trust, or more simply stated, your Will would be designed to transfer (or pour over) into your Trust. This is called a Pour-Over Will.

  • A Trust. A Trust protects your assets from the moment it is created (and those assets are properly transferred into the Trust) and determines where those assets will go once you are gone. A basic Trust involves three different parties: the Trustor (the person giving the money or property), the Trustee (the person who is in charge of managing the Trust’s assets), and the Beneficiary (the person receiving the benefit of the Trust). Depending on your particular circumstance, you can either have a Revocable Trust (a Trust that can be altered or canceled by the Trustor), or an Irrevocable Trust (a Trust whose terms cannot be modified or amended). There are different advantages inherent in both, which we will discuss in more detail in this book.

  • A General Assignment of assets, usually to a Revocable Trust. This assignment covers general property like jewelry and furniture that was not specifically addressed in the Trust.

  • A Financial Power of Attorney. This legal document grants an Attorney-in-Fact (someone you trust) the authority to act on your behalf in financial matters. It is wise to grant someone financial power of attorney in case of unforeseen incapacity.

  • An Advance Health Care Directive. This is a written document informing others of your health care wishes in the event of your incapacity. It allows you to name an agent to make decisions for your health care if you are unable to. It gives those who survive you certainty and peace regarding your wishes.

Each estate plan certainly has its own variations and no approach is a one-size-fits-all option. But, regardless of the final form it takes, an estate plan provides peace of mind by:

  • Ensuring your final wishes are kept;

  • Avoiding long probate processes (or avoiding probate altogether);

  • Decreasing or avoiding conflict regarding your care;

  • Providing for your family after you are gone, or in case you are temporarily or permanently incapacitated;

  • Preventing certain assets from being seized by creditors or courts; and

  • Minimizing tax and legal consequences for those you leave behind.

Whatever plan we put together for you, providing for the distribution of your belongings after you pass is essential. Let us assist you in this process.


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