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Three Plays in Estate Planning

By: Marty Bodnar, estate planning attorney

In the past we wrote on “How to Score a Touchdown with a Living Trust” and “Funding a Trust Gets You Across the Goal Line.” In keeping with the football analogy, we’re going to describe the 3 “plays” of estate planning to gain a first down. 

A football team must gain a first down within three plays to keep possession of the ball. Some people come to an attorney’s office wanting a living trust merely because their neighbor has one. Many attorneys believe that everyone needs a trust, and not all of them discuss the other plays in the estate planning playbook.

We believe in explaining the three plays in estate planning to help clients earn a first down prior to scoring a touchdown with a living trust.

These three plays are: 1) a simple will, 2) a beneficiary designation and a “Ladybird” deed or 3) living trust. 

Simple Will: A simple will is basically instructions to the probate judge as to who gets what and who’s in charge. Without a will, your property would pass according to the laws of the state where you reside and must go through the probate process. This takes time, money and requires notice to family members.

Beneficiary Designation: A beneficiary designation distributes assets without probate court intervention. It includes the use of a beneficiary designation on life insurance policies, retirement accounts and “payable on death” accounts at banks or brokerage firms. You can also use a ladybird deed to pass real estate using a beneficiary designation. This works when there are very few beneficiaries.

Living Trust: You can also pass your assets using a living trust. This is a means that you settle your affairs privately without probate court intervention. A trust is often used when you don’t want your children to receive a share of your estate when they become adults. With a living trust, you have more control over who gets what and when they get it.

Avoiding probate court after one dies saves money and time and keeps ones’ assets confidential. We can remember a time when we told a business owner that anyone could go down to probate court and to find out what his business was worth. He immediately said to me “Where do I sign to keep this from happening?” He eventually signed a living trust.

You can tell your attorney you want a trust. But a good attorney will help you determine what your particular needs and goals are and make sure that you’re provided with the appropriate solution that fits your circumstances.

If you’re interested in learning more about these three plays, please call Marty Bodnar, estate planning attorney in Ann Arbor at 734-665-4441 or email him at

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