Competent and well thought out estate planning isn’t just for the wealthy. You don’t need town a massive estate to benefit from creating a sound financial plan or to realize some of the advantages that were once reserved for the richest Americans.
Whether or not you realize it, you already have an estate, which is merely a way of describing your total assets. The wealth you’ve accumulated so far, and that which will be added in the future, can be subject to a wide array of forces and laws. While careful investing and money management can help you attain wealth, changes in the tax laws can expose your asset to many vulnerabilities that a qualified estate planning attorney can anticipate and help you avoid.
To make sure that your assets are secured and that they will go to those you choose to receive them, requires a sound estate plan.
WHAT IS ESTATE PLANNING
Having an estate plan in place is extremely important. With the proper combination of documents, including a will, trust, and other items, you can ensure:
- Your estate will NOT go through probate, which could cost thousands of dollars and take years. Learn more about Probate.
- Your assets are distributed to whom you wish and under what circumstances
- You have control of your health care decisions in the event you become incapacitated
- Your minor children are cared for by the persons you choose.
HOW SHOULD I PLAN SO THAT WSTATE WILL NOT BE SUBJECT TO ESTATE TAXES?
Federal Tax law currently allows for estates under $5 million per person to be exempt from estate taxes (currently at 35% rate). Fortunately, that means that many estates are not subject to the estate tax. However, this does not mean that proper planning can be ignored. If you fall into any of the following categories, you should consider establishing a living trust that will focus on controlling the beneficiaries of your estate and avoidance of probate, rather than directed by tax planning:
- Have Young Children
- Have Children from Prior Marriages or Relationships
- Own Substantial Separate Property
- Would Prefer to Leave Your Property to Non-Family Members
- Have Concerns about the Persons who may Manage your Estate
- Own Real Property (especially if located in multiple states)
Trusts can be drafted to provide an education fund for your children, but leave the bulk of the funds in the care of a trusted relative or friend until each child is of a more mature age (such as 25 or 30). If you have substantial separate property, it may be to your advantage to structure a trust that will provide health care and maintenance to your spouse, but leave any remaining principal at your spouse’s death to your family line (not your spouse’s family). Please contact me to discuss your particular concerns about your family, so that together we can craft an estate plan that truly reflects your wishes.
REVOCABLE LIVING TRUST
A living trust works similarly to a will – it disposes of a person’s assets at his death. However, unlike a will, a decedent’s assets will be distributed without the need for an expensive and time-consuming court-supervised probate.
A living trust is a written agreement between the creator of the trust (the “Settlor”) and the person who is going to manage the trust (the “Trustee”). The Settlor moves his assets into the trust, with the understanding that the Trustee is going to follow the rules set forth in the trust to take care of the beneficiaries identified in the document. Usually, during the Settlor’s lifetime, he is also the Trustee and the primary Beneficiary.
The Settlor moves his assets into the trust to make it easier to manage his finances and distribute assets to his heirs at his death. If the Settlor is the acting Trustee, the living trust uses the Settlor’s social security number on all financial accounts and the Settlor remains responsible for paying all income taxes associated with the income from the trust. If the Settlor becomes incapacitated or otherwise unable to manage his financial affairs, a successor Trustee, who is appointed by the Settlor in the trust document, can step in and manage the Settlor’s assets on the Settlor’s behalf, thereby avoiding a conservatorship or guardianship procedure.
A living trust, by and of itself, does not minimize estate taxes. A living trust is used to avoid probate. Certain types of living trusts, such as an A/B Trust, discussed on the next page, can help a married couple reduce the aggregate estate taxes on dispositions to children or other heirs. But a living trust on its own does not avoid estate taxes.