Top Ten Estate Planning Tips
More than 120 million people in the United States have not engaged in any kind of estate planning—according to the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils. That is a sizeable number of people who have no plans for who would care for their children or receive their assets/property if they were to become gravely ill, have an accident or die.
While many feel estate planning is only for those with more wealth, more time or more years, that is a misconception you can’t afford. Everyone needs to plan his or her estate because you never know when life will take a bad turn … suddenly. Here are some tips for getting the most out of an estate plan.
1. Determine Who Receives What If you don’t prepare a will, state law will decide who gets your assets—and that goes for nonfinancial assets as well, such as that one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry your niece has been admiring or your beloved vintage car. Don’t assume family members will work all of that out on their own. Talk openly with the family members and individuals involved; letting them know—before it’s too late—which items have sentimental value and monetary value and who you would like to have each item.
2. Prepare a Will or Update an Old Will As mentioned above, if no will is prepared, state law determines what happens to your property. A will lets you place certain conditions on your assets. A will also allows parents to name a guardian who will care for minor children. If there is no will, the court decides who the guardian(s) will be. No parent would want the state to determine that.
3. Select a Qualified Executor Appoint someone now who will be responsible for paying debts and distributing assets in accordance with the will. Consider the spouse or the oldest child, but you can select anyone you want.
4. Make a Full Inventory of Assets Put together a list of all property/assets and where that information can be located with passwords and serial numbers. Make sure the Executor has that list. A lot of time and energy will be wasted on the part of the Executor if he/she is trying to locate that list. If that information were never found, guess who determines who receives your assets—the state.
5. Minimize Estate and Income Taxes One way to do that is to make annual tax-free gifts of up to $14K to as many individuals as you want. The annual gift exclusion is $14K this year. What that means to you is there are no returns, no tax, no worries for gifts under this amount. In addition, the future appreciation on the gifted assets will be transferred out of your estate.
6. Offset Taxes with Insurance Your beneficiaries can lose a significant amount of taxable assets they receive to estate and income taxes. This can be offset with the proceeds from life insurance. As an example, if your estate planner estimates that your beneficiary will owe $250,000 in estate and income tax, you can purchase a life insurance plan for that amount and name the affected party as the beneficiary. Since life insurance proceeds paid to your beneficiaries are tax-free, the entire $250,000 would be available to pay the taxes owed.
7. Leave Roth IRAs When leaving money in retirement accounts to beneficiaries, try to leave them Roth IRAs because under current law, the tax fee treatment will pass to designated persons.
8. Charitable Bequests Make direct charitable bequests from your estate through a will … or better yet, through a trust.
9. Consider a Revocable Trust A revocable trust goes into effect now and eliminates wasting money on court costs and it reduces attorney’s fees that would otherwise be spent in probate court. Plus, no time is wasted in court.
10. Work with an Experienced Estate Planner An estate planner can help you design and create a will and/or trust as well as ensuring your estate plan meets requirements set forth by federal and state laws. It is best to work with a local attorney who is familiar with the regulations of your particular state.
Most individuals spend untold hours working hard to make money and yet they procrastinate and fail to plan how that hard-earned money will benefit the people they love most. Failing to put together an effective estate plan can be costly, timely, frustrating and cause undue tension among loved ones and family members.
Wayne Gardner, Attorney
Buntrock & Gardner Law, PLLC
Mesa, AZ 85203