In setting up a trust, consider the following:
*While "mail-order" trusts can be legally executed in most states - provided various legal requirements are met, such as getting signatures from witnesses - it is best to use a local attorney, experts say.
*Choose a lawyer who specializes in trusts, says trust expert Lee Phillips. Check out attorneys' names in the phone book, under "wills and estates," or "tax probate." Then call the state bar association to see if they are a member of the bar's estate planning section. Less than 5 percent of all lawyers know how to properly draft a trust agreement, Mr. Phillips says.
*Setting up a trust need not be expensive: A simple trust can run anywhere from $100 to $2,000.
*Remember, a revocable trust can always be changed by the trustee. So if you set yourself up as trustee, and shift all your assets to the trust, you still retain control over the assets in your estate. But with an irrevocable estate, you usually lose control over your assets. Thus, lawyers recommend you set up an irrevocable estate only after you are certain you wish to do so.
*Even if you set up a revocable trust, you will probably also need to have a will to account for items that may have been left out of the trust, says financial planner David Bendix. He says a will should always be part of a trust arrangement, to ensure all your wishes are met.
*If you use a co-trustee, remember that person can usually do whatever you could do with the assets in your trust. So choose a co-trustee wisely.
Web sites on trusts
The Web site for USA law publications provides document forms for wills, trusts, health-care directives and powers of attorney. Theselegal documents can be printed out for a fee.
A crash course on estate planning by attorney Michael Palermo in Lexington, Ky., this site tells you all the options, and who needs what.
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