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retirement

Keep Your Estate Planning Out of the Dog House

Confusion over Leona Helmsley’s will serves as a reminder of the importance of smart estate planning. Here’s help.

Oh, the muddle we can create with our wills, trusts and estates. Witness the drama unfolding around the final wishes of hotel and real estate magnate Leona Helmsley, who died last August. People were first shocked to learn that she had left $12 million in her will to her dog, Trouble. But that was kibbles compared with the latest twist: According to the New York Times, she also instructed that her entire trust, valued at $5 billion to $8 billion, go literally to the dogs—the care and welfare of all dogs.

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According to the Times, a two-page mission statement Helmsley signed in 2003 had instructed that her billions go to help poor people and canines, but she deleted the first goal a year later.. Now estate experts are poring over yet another provision in the mission statement that says the estate’s trustees may use their discretion in distributing the money. Plus, the experts note, Helmsley’s directions were neither incorporated into her will nor the trust’s documents.

Whether you want your estate to go to your heirs, worthy charities or to the dogs, the confusion over Mrs. Helmsley’s estate is a timely reminder about the importance of making your own final wishes clear and legally binding. Here are five stories from Kiplinger’s Personal Finance that will help you sort out your own priorities with your last will and testament. Take a look:

Six Steps to a Good Will.This is no time for shortcuts. Learn what you should do to make sure your final wishes are carried out.

Ties that Bind Heirs.Incentive trusts can perpetuate your wishes -- or fuel a family squabble.

Forces That Affect Your Estate Plan.From probate and ownership division to the taxing arm of Uncle Sam, here are four things that can influence what happens to your belongings.

Giving with Strings Attached. A guide to making sure your gift accomplishes what you want it to.

Five Ways to Avoid Anna Nicole's Estate Drama.Don't leave behind a legal mess others will have to sort out for you.

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