Insights on Estate Planning from an Estate & Business Planning Attorney

Earlier this month, we spoke with Lindsay Harris, an Estate & Business Planning Attorney at Harris Law & Co., in Sioux Falls, for insights on estate planning and how to start preparing and managing assets.

Lindsay, what is your take on wills versus trusts, and how they differ or benefit an individual?

In the legal world, we’re actually seeing Wills become a more outdated form of estate planning. Most clients who come in thinking they need a will, don’t usually end up with a will. Their vision of what they need is usually a revocable trust.

At Harris Law & Co., we’re pretty big fans of well-drafted trusts. All in all, we want to make things easier for our loved ones, so when we say things like ‘hey, let’s get rid of the chaos and make it easier,’ living trusts are going to do that for us.

A trust is really a superior document because it works both during life and after death. Trusts don’t rely on a power of attorney, and if you have assets in the trust, the trust dictates what happens if you become incapacitated, so you don’t have to worry about a judge who doesn’t know you making those decisions for you. When done right, trusts can also remain completely private and avoid the probate process.

However, there is some homework with a trust. A will, you can sign and be done, but it doesn’t manage your estate like a trust does. That’s a big thing people overlook. Even a very simple trust is not that much more work to put together than a will, and you get a lot more benefits.

When should someone start to build an estate plan?

If you are reading this article, it is likely time to start putting a plan in place. Although many of our clients are in their 50’s when they start putting together flexible plans, our biggest planning generation is our millennials. They’re good pre-planners and they want to help make things easy, so they’re actually bringing that average age down.

Ultimately, estate planning comes down to progress over perfection. Unfortunately, experiencing a death is a big reason for starting the process, but whether you have a dollar in your pocket or a million, you have an estate that needs to be planned for. You just need to start. And it’s not a one and done process. Most people should review their estate plan every five years, maybe even more depending on assets and their attorney’s recommendation.

female estate plan representation

What do roles in a trust look like?

Naming a trustee really depends on the type of trust you put together. With a revocable trust, it’s quite common to see trustors name themselves as the trustee. This gives them complete control over their assets and power to manage their affairs as they always have.

As I mentioned earlier, a trust has incapacity terms that allow the trustor to name someone to step in and manage the trust should they no longer be able to. Most trusts are going to have protections built in that allow the successor trustee to pay bills and maintain the status quo, but not make any big changes to the trust or the trust assets during an incapacity.

When someone passes, the trustee’s role looks a little different. Their focus turns to wrapping up the estate pursuant to the trust terms. This includes gathering and accounting for the trust assets and determining which bills need to be paid. At the end, the Trustee will also make distributions to the beneficiaries. In many cases, the beneficiary is a child who’s likely working with an attorney to help sort through the assets they’ll be receiving in the trust.

As an attorney, what information do you expect clients to provide when first meeting to draft an estate plan?

Oftentimes, we overthink this. We see people wait to start planning because they don’t have the “perfect solution” for how to divide up their estate. What they fail to realize is that a skilled estate planning attorney can help them develop these ideas—giving them options they didn’t realize were available. 

For your initial meeting to be really successful with an attorney, you just need to come with an open mind and be ready for conversation. If you can tell us a little about your kids and your accounts (think types of accounts and general values), then you are ready for your first meeting. The attorney you work with should be someone who focuses on estate planning—someone who does it every day—that’s a good fit and that you like to work with. They see the practical side of estate planning and help ensure your documents are not only legal, but also practical.

As an attorney, we also understand you are on a budget and want to know what you are going to pay for your planning. However, it is almost impossible for an attorney to give you an accurate fee quote before meeting with you. It’d be like quoting the price to build a house before the client tells you how many bedrooms the house will have. A great estate plan—even a simple one—is still custom built.

When you meet with your attorney and they give you a planning fee, make sure you understand what other costs are added to that fee. It’s crazy how many people end up paying more in fees for a basic Will than what they’d pay for a simple living trust. A $750 Will sounds like a great price. But if you are charged $255 to meet with your attorney, $127 to revise to the first draft, and a $75 printing fee. The cost of your quoted “$750 Will” just became $1,207. 

Don’t come in to your initial meeting having all the answers figured out. Come in ready to discuss your goals and wishes for your family, then  I can draft a plan that fits your individual goals. The biggest thing is just getting started.

End of Life Planning

3 ways to talk to your parents about their life plans.

Today, our parents and elders are learning to embrace their life plans with dignity and independence as they strive to stay active and involved as they age. Parents at this life stage create opportunities for conversation about what they want their future to look like. Asking your parents about their life plans can help lead to further conversation about how they want to age and your role in their future.

While parents can be reluctant to share their information or open up about their plans, there are a few things you can try to spark the conversation.

Talk about your own experience.

It may help to share your own personal experience about how you’ve prepared for your future. Provide examples of how you’ve readied your financial affairs, drafted a will, or documented your information should your loved ones ever need it. You can then ask your parents how they’ve prepared for their future.

Share a friend or colleague’s experience.

Similarly, you can share a friend or colleague’s experience who either did or didn’t have access to their parents’ information when they needed it most. This could range from the importance of having a will to having specific healthcare plans in place. Show your parents how significant it can be for you to have their information on-hand. This will also invite conversation about what your parents may or may not have in place.

Secure documentation.

If your parents are reluctant to loop you in on their plans and information, suggest they write it out and share where they’ve secured the document in their home. You could also suggest they use an online, encrypted database like Helen’s Plan or that they meet with a lawyer or attorney. These ideas may help create the distance your parents are wanting to comfortably document their life plans and information.

Gather as many details as you can.

If your parents are open to sharing, work to gather as many details as you can. Secure things like bank accounts, insurance, healthcare plans, real estate, legal documents, and logins. Include any information you or their lawyer, attorney, or estate planner may need.

In a society that once viewed retirement as leaving the workforce to rock on a porch swing, our parents and elders are doing anything but. Working to openly discuss and collect details of your parents’ life plans will allow you both to celebrate and find comfort as they age.

End of Life Planning

What to expect when you lose your parents.

Losing your parents can bring on unexpected responsibilities and rob your time to grieve. AARP’s checklist for what to do when a loved one dies can help streamline those responsibilities. Here’s where to start:

Immediately when you lose a parent, find support in sharing the news. From there, get legal pronouncement of the death and plan any funeral arrangements they had in place.

If your parent was residing alone, remove any valuables from their home and assign someone to check on the property regularly. Then, head to the post office and submit a new forwarding address to receive their mail.

Within a few weeks, obtain 10-20 copies of the death certificate from the funeral director or order them from the vital records office in the state in which your parent passed. You’ll need them for various reasons from claiming benefits to closing out bank, insurance and social accounts.

Locate your parents’ will and see who they named as the executor of their assets. This person will oversee that the distribution of the estate goes according to the wishes documented in your parents’ will. Then, bring the will to the local probate court to begin the probate process. At this time, you or the executor may want to meet with or hire an estate planner or attorney to help close your parents’ estate.

Probate will need to have a list of all your parents’ assets. This includes documentation of items ranging from bank and retirement accounts, real estate property, stocks and bonds to cars, jewelry, and art. During this time, the executor should handle any outstanding bills, mortgage, taxes, or debts on the estate. They should also cancel any unnecessary utilities, like internet, telephone, cable TV or streaming services.

It’s important to contact the Social Security Administration, DMV, credit and insurance agencies, and banks on behalf of the deceased. You will need a death certificate for each of these entities, along with any policy numbers for insurance.

If your parent did not leave any login information, you will need a death certificate to close out or memorialize any social or online accounts, including their email. While this process may take time, closing these accounts prevents spam, identity theft, and fraud.


8 Things to Know About Finding Long Term Care

Finding long-term care becomes necessary when someone is unable to perform daily activities on their own for an extended period of time. Once long-term care becomes essential for a loved one, the legwork to search for and find a facility begins. Fortunately, with online platforms like Koazie and Helen’s Plan, families can now navigate their search for care with confidence and ease.

Koazie is a physician-led platform that aids in the transition of care and generates location-based providers and facilities according to the clinical and personal needs of the patient. On the other hand, Helen’s Plan is an easy-to-use, comprehensive tool that archives, secures, and encrypts personal information, granting family members access to the information they need to close affairs and streamline end-of-life responsibilities.

Talking about Getting Long-Term Care

Ganesh Laxminarayan, Executive Director at Health IT and CTO at The Innovation Institute, the provider that launched Koazie, shared that lots of times it is difficult for our loved ones to admit they have overriding challenges that require additional care, but that having information ready is the best way to navigate that conversation.

“We’re working hard to introduce more and more content on Koazie that will continue to help guide care decisions and make it easier for family members to have that conversation with their loved ones,” said Laxminarayan.

If accessible by the platform, Koazie serves facility information as detailed as the number of available beds, star ratings, insurance accepted, medical services available, and statistics regarding the quality of patient care.


The process of finding the right long-term care facility almost always starts with insurance, and what types a facility accepts. Oftentimes, this is something a case manager or social worker will help you determine on top of advocating for your loved one, guiding them toward the best possible care plan, and coordinating those cares.

Types of Services Provided

While a case manager or social worker is likely to recommend a facility based on clinical needs, you should also consider the personal needs facilities meet.

For example, having someone on staff who speaks the same language as your loved one is crucial to getting them the care they need. While hospitals are required to provide an interpreter when necessary, healthcare providers may use phone-based translation systems that lack the ability to recognize nonverbal cues and expressions.

Likewise, opportunities for recreational activities provide your loved one physical and cognitive progress, plus time to socialize with the other residents in their facility.


The distance a facility is from family should play an important role in the final decision, especially when it comes to visiting hours and your loved one’s care plan. Before you get too far into your search, ask your loved one how far away they’d be comfortable living from family and friends.

Facility Features

Beyond cares and extracurriculars, you’ll want to note any significant features within the facility that could affect your loved one’s lifestyle. This could include anything from shared versus single rooms to acceptance of COVID-19 patients, weekday and weekend visiting hours, and transportation and care options for outings.

Comparing Facilities

Once you’ve compiled your top facilities, start comparing details right down to the quality ratings and inspection reports.

“It’s important for patients and families to know, even if a facility does have a 5-star rating, if they have any penalties or violations, and if so, what types,” said Laxminarayan. If accessible by the platform, this is something families can find on the Koazie site, or through a search of your state’s Department of Health website.

Take a Tour

Certain factors can only be determined after seeing the facility or talking with staff. That’s why, you should plan to tour any facilities in your final round of decision-making.

Once Care is Established

Once a facility is lined up, speak with your loved one’s case manager, social worker or medical director to get an understanding of their long-term care plan moving forward. Now is also the time to consider getting a power of attorney or advance directive in place, if there isn’t one already. This is something that can be accomplished and accessible to only the family and friends of your loved one’s choice, at the levels they choose, with a tool like Helen’s Plan.

In the end, careful consideration of your loved one’s care plan, lifestyle and comfortability will get them the right kind of care they need to be in a healthy state.

Sign up online at

End of Life Planning

When to get a written will and what you need to write one .

A written will ensures that your assets and property will be distributed as you wish. When deciding if you need a will, it’s best to consider where you’re at in your life and how many assets you’ve accumulated.

If you’re married, it’s important to document whether all your assets will go to your spouse. Similarly, if you’re a parent, deciding who will take guardianship over your minor children. The same goes for property owners, pet owners, and anyone with assets that would need distributing after they’ve passed. If you haven’t yet built up assets or are just starting out financially, it’s likely you won’t need a will just yet.

Having an estate plan in place allows your family members time to grieve and lower the chances of disputes. It’s important that you document these decisions properly. Handwritten wills bring added risk to the validity and reliability of the document and can even be questioned in court.

An online will-writing program may seem like a good middle ground between hiring out and writing your own, but it’s always recommended to consult with an attorney or estate planner. While do-it-yourself sites are more convenient and less spendy, they carry little assurance on the legal validity or accountability of your document.

Before writing your will, your lawyer or attorney will need a list of all your assets and the person or organization that will inherit each, along with any real estate property or guardianship. You’ll also have the option to name an executor in your will or an individual or organization that will ensure the proper distribution of your assets and property.

Creating a will costs time and money, but dying without a will in place risks leaving the distribution of your assets up to your local courts or state laws to decide on your behalf. This may not only go against your wishes but potentially generate legal expenses and conflict within your family. Having one in place will remove added stress for your loved ones and allow them the time they need to grieve and heal.

End of Life Planning

What to do with the belongings of someone who’s passed.

Assets have been distributed and cherished belongings have been claimed, now it’s time to decide what to do with your loved ones remaining possessions. You decide when they go and you decide where they go. But it’s important to note that not everything is going to find a new home, and you don’t need to feel guilty about that.

Truth is, society is returning to a minimalist lifestyle. Some furnishings and items like trinkets, flatware, and crystal bowls aren’t as widely used as they once were. In other words, you’re right to dispose of your late aunt’s floral-printed davenport and you’re right not to feel shameful about it. Odds are she wouldn’t have cared as much as you think, and she certainly doesn’t now.

While some unclaimed items will have a clear forthcoming, some shouldn’t be that simple. If any of the remaining furnishings or items are believed to hold value, visit a pawn shop, consult an antique dealer, or get them appraised. You’ll want to do this for high-end furnishings and things like jewelry, artwork, china, crystal, or flatware. Note that it can take time to find parties interested in these types of pieces.

A simple search can contribute specific items to online marketplaces, while nearby consignment shops and public libraries make great places for local donations. Hosting a yard sale also keeps your loved one’s remaining possessions in your community and provides the opportunity to donate the funds to a charity in their name.

As we age, there’s always opportunity to downsize our possessions. Offer to help declutter your loved one’s belongings at certain stages in their life, like as they enter retirement or plan to move. This will help prepare for the future and also allow you to gather the stories behind heirlooms or items they cherish that should be held onto.

End of Life Planning

Why everyone should have an end-of-life plan in place.

Helen Claire Edwards Portz was an excellent organizer. She was a selfless wife, mother, and friend, a talented quilter and gardener who passed unexpectedly a few years after her husband.

Following Helen’s passing, her family worked to coordinate her end-of-life plans, close out their parents’ affairs and unravel all the pieces of their life they had spent so many years building, a process that can take families anywhere from a few months to a few years to settle.

Having your life’s details in place when you pass lifts the burden of decision-making off your family and loved ones, and gives them time to freely grieve and find closure in a healthy way – a gift you can give with Helen’s Plan.

Helen’s Plan is an easy-to-use, comprehensive tool that gives your family access to the information they need to close your affairs and streamline end-of-life responsibilities. As we age, more and more pieces of our lives get intertwined. Helen’s Plan provides a safe place for those complexities and details to be archived, secured, and encrypted, ensuring your data is safe and accessible to only the family and friends of your choice, at the levels you choose.

From billing, insurance and banking information to passwords, funeral arrangements and pet care, Helen’s Plan archives the details of your life at the pace you enter them and prepares those details into an easy-to-follow checklist that will help your family navigate their end-of-life responsibilities when they need it most.

Whatever your life may look like, Helen’s Plan is for anyone wanting to have their affairs in order, for themselves and their loved ones. It’s for people who are married, people who have children, people who are single or in the beginning stages of a relationship, people in excellent health and those at the end stages of life. It’s for people who want a place for their life’s plans.