People used to think that trusts were just for wealthy families, and that a basic will was for the rest of us. But when families are complicated, with step-parents, step-children, half-siblings and subsequent marriages, distributing assets often requires more than simple documents.
A will is the best known estate planning document; it provides instructions about how to distribute your assets after death. There are many different kinds of trusts, and whether you need one or more than one is best determined with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.
There is no simple estate—everybody has complexity, says The (Eugene, OR) Register-Guard article "Wills, trusts, big decisions." The basic questions are whether: (i) you're married; (ii) you have children, or children from multiple marriages or step-children; and (iii) there's real estate you own outside of the state. The larger the estate, the more questions there will be about how best to distribute the assets.
If it is a one-time married family, an estate-planning attorney can provide for financial assets to go straight to the children without probate administration in many cases. But things can be more complicated with blended families. There may be one spouse with children by a prior marriage and children from a subsequent marriage. If that is the case, then you may want to be sure that the children by the first marriage will be treated the same when the surviving spouse will have control of all of the assets.
Frequently this can be avoided, starting with a discussion to learn if the people are willing to carry out an equitable division among the various "blended" children. If it doesn't look like they will, then you may need to create a trust with someone other than the surviving spouse as trustee. That will make certain that assets you intend go to the children from your first marriage.
A minimum set of documents that every retiree should have includes a will, a power of attorney and medical documents such as an advanced directive. A durable power of attorney permits the person you choose to deal with your finances. A health care directive is a living will, which is a written document of a person's wishes.
Even if there has not been any instance of dementia or Alzheimer's disease in the family, it is wise to take the additional step to plan in advance so that the family does not have to become embroiled in conservator and guardianship issues while it is in crisis mode. An experienced estate planning attorney can discuss how to best handle this for your family.
Reference: The (Eugene, OR) Register-Guard (March 23, 2016) "Wills, trusts, big decisions"