Build a Wealth Foundation

You can't build a house from the roof down, and you can't build a financial fortune that way either. You have to build a foundation first.

You can't build a house from the roof down, and you can't build a financial fortune that way either. You have to build a foundation first.

The basic foundation of wealth consists of four legal tools. If physicians understand the tools and know how to use them, the chances of building a financial fortune are much better. If you don't have the basic foundation, it is time to get your act together. Here's a basic overview of the four tools:

1) Testamentary Will

Everyone needs a will. Even if you have a revocable trust, you need a will. The will names the personal representative (the executor or executrix). A family member, who is geographically near the bulk of your estate, has good business sense, and can be fair with your heirs, is the person you are looking for. It is basically malpractice for the doctor to name himself or herself as the personal representative.

The will names the guardian for your minor children. If you have minor children or grandchildren, you had better see to it immediately that a guardian is named in the parent's will. The will should put restrictions on the guardians. Most wills simply state, “John and Mary guardians to my minor children.” You can do better than that. Coach the judge in your will. It should read, “John and Mary; provided they raise the children in our family home where the children are living at the time of my death.” “John and Mary; provided they are still happily married and harmoniously living together.” “Grandma and grandpa; provided they have the health to take care of the kids.” “Grandma and Grandpa; provided they don't sell the kids.” Get the picture?

If you already have a will and don't have a living trust, you must get a new will which goes along with your living trust. It is called a “pour over will,” because it “pours” all of your property, not already in the trust, into the trust for ultimate distribution after your death. The living trust is the next part of the foundation.

2) Revocable Living Trust

The living trust allows an estate to avoid probate, get twice the estate tax exclusion, and provide for a smooth transfer of property. It is definitely worth having for most families. Yes, there is a big argument in the legal profession between the standard will/probate guys and the living trust “hawkers.” I come down in favor of the living trust, but it’s your decision. Frank Sinatra was called the “Chairman of the Board,” and he knew how to handle money. His living trust provided his estate with total privacy, much to the media's chagrin.

Many living trusts out there do not do what they are supposed to. The problem usually rests with the lawyer and user of the trust, not with the trust itself. The trust has to be maintained, and it has to “own” all of your estate. It isn't hard to manage, but the lawyer never takes the time to teach you how to do the management, and you can't afford to pay the lawyer to do it for you. As a result, a majority of people who get a living trust don't get the benefits they were promised. The living trust will "overlap" with a durable power of attorney.

3) Durable Power of Attorney

Durable powers of attorney allow an individual to control the property of a person who is unable to control their own property. People of all ages, not just old people, fall victim to accident or illness and are rendered unable to control their business life. A good living trust will have a provision that automatically lets a successor trustee manage trust property if you, acting as the original trustee, become incompetent. The durable power of attorney lets the person of your choice manage all of your other business affairs when you can't do it. Power doesn't transfer from you until the criteria outlined in the document are met, and then there is an automatic transfer of power. This prevents messy court proceedings that are required to name a guardian/conservator for an incompetent individual.

The emotional and financial drain of a court proceeding when a family member has an accident of gets sick is the last thing the family needs at that time. The durable power of attorney prevents all of the legal problems at a time of crisis in the family, when a family member becomes incompetent.

Many powers of attorney include a section which addresses an individual's instructions and desires for their health care. This is a durable power of attorney for health care, which appoints an "agent" and grants them power to interface with the medical industry. The durable power of attorney for health care can be part of the document entitled durable power of attorney or it can be a separate document. It deals only with the medical treatment, not the right to die, which is addressed in a living will.

4) Living Will

A living will directs the doctors to keep you alive or pull the plug. You need one and so does the rest of your family. The best place to get one is in your hospital. They are free and hospitals like to see their own document rather than the 30-page beautiful, very expensive document you get from your lawyer.

These four legal documents form the basic foundation for all wealthy people. They are always there. They are the "basic tools of wealth." Use them, and it will be worth every effort you make and every dime you spend.

Lee R. Phillips, an attorney and nationally recognized expert in the field of finance, asset protection, and estate planning, is licensed to practice law before the US Supreme Court and also holds licenses in insurance and securities. His goal is to reposition you in the law so you can actually use the law to make more money, and keep it. His specialty is in creating easy-to-understand, do-it-yourself legal systems. For more information, visit his web site, Do It Yourself Asset Protection.

Read More:

Guide to Estate Planning Lawyers

The Estate Tax Comeback

Top 10 Malpractice Mistakes