Sunday, January 21, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, January 21, 2001

Estate Planning: Planning your estate takes four simple steps

By David Larsen

Q. Can you make estate planning as simple as buying a computer? I bought my daughter a computer for Christmas, took it out of its box, plugged it in, turned it on, and it works. I don’t want to know about megahertz and gigahertz , I just want something that works. Can you do the same for me?

A. I can try. But instead of plugging what I give you into the wall socket, you’ll have to sign your name four or five times. You can then put this stuff on the shelf and pretty much forget about it. You’re going to need three documents, or maybe four. (Just like you need a mouse, a keyboard, a computer, and a printer.) Here are the three or four papers you will need to get completely squared away:

1. Living will. This is the paper that tells the doctor what your wishes are in the event you cannot communicate, and then further in the event you become terminally ill. Who should speak for you if you cannot speak for yourself? If you become terminal, do you want to be hooked up to a machine, or do you want to simply "pull the plug’?

2. Power of attorney. This paper allows someone else to pay your bills and take care of your business affairs in the event you become incapacitated. Like the paper just above, you would sign this one, and then put it on the shelf and forget about it until the time came.

3. A will. This document takes effect when you die, so you can certainly sign it and forget about it. But it will designate a person to take care of all of your affairs (your executor) and will then designate who gets your wealth. This one can certainly prevent a lot of squabbling and fighting.

4. A living trust. This is the "optional" one and it can do two positive things for you. First, it will avoid probate when you die. That means your executor and your heirs will not have to go through the probate process ö which no longer is that expensive or that big a deal, and so you may decide that you don’t need or want to pay for this "optional extra."

The second thing it can do for you, which is much more important, is this: if you are married, a separate living trust for each of you will mean that your children will be able to inherit $1,350,000 without paying any inheritance tax. If you don’t have the two trusts, the children will be able to inherit only $675,000 without paying any inheritance tax.That’s all there is to it. There’s no need to know "how" these documents work only that they WILL work. No megahertz or gigahertz; just a nice clear picture.

David Larsen is a Honolulu lawyer and author of "Who Gets It When You Go" and "You Can’t Take It With You." He can be reached via e-mail at, or by writing in care of The Honolulu Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802. This column is not intended to provide specific legal advice; you should consult your lawyer for advice on your own circumstances.

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