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Important estate planning precautions to protect your assets

By having a thorough, professionally-developed estate plan, you can ensure that your affairs will be looked after responsibly if you become physically and/or mentally incapacitated and unable to do so. You also can plan for your assets to be disbursed as you've designated after you're gone.

However, it's essential to make sure that you protect those assets and your intentions when you develop your estate plan and designate your executor, trustees and powers of attorney. While it may seem inconceivable that a family member or other trusted person would betray you, there are no guarantees. Money can make people do things that no one -- even they -- would have believed they were capable of.

Following are some steps you should consider when developing or revising your estate plan to protect your assets.

Have checks and balances

It's best not to place one person in charge of your entire estate. For example, if you have a trustee, it's a good idea to have a trust protector who can step in if they see an issue. Don't prohibit the removal of anyone -- including the trust protector. Another type of check on the estate is allowing the estate to be contested. It may be wise to avoid including a "no contest" clause.

Consider an irrevocable trust

Many people avoid these trusts because of the restrictions on them. However, it may be a wise choice for some of your assets to help ensure that the assets aren't misused. However, be aware that under California law, trustees can now amend irrevocable trusts without getting the approval of a probate judge unless there's a clause that prohibits "decanting." Decanting is essentially re-evaluating a trust and distributing the assets in a way that's determined to be preferable for the beneficiaries.

Distribute your assets now

If you have assets that you intend for particular loved ones to have and you have no need for them, you might consider giving them away while you're still around. This can minimize estate battles after you're gone.

Your estate planning attorney can advise you as you develop your estate plan or amend it as your needs and your family change.

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