If you are interested in planning to accumulate and conserve wealth during the course of your life, and eventually want that wealth distributed to your family, friends, and favorite charities efficiently and in a way that accomplishes your tax and nontax related goals, then you are interested in estate planning. In a nutshell, estate planning is about managing your property both before and after your death. And, the reality of the matter is that if you do not actively plan for the distribution of your estate, the government has a plan set up for you – a plan that may result in your family spending a lot of time in court and seeing a substantive portion of your estate dwindled down by taxes.
But, if you take action now, you have the power to decide what happens to your wealth and when. Proper estate planning allows you a systematic method for uncovering potential problems and finding solutions in seven major areas of your life – before they can wreak havoc on your loved ones when you are gone. These seven areas are: (1) liquidity – make sure your estate has the liquid funds necessary to maintain property, pay taxes, and other expenses associated with settling your estate; (2) proper disposition of assets – make sure the right people get the right stuff at the right time; (3) diversifying investments; (4) ensure adequate income for retirement; (5) stabilize the value of your business; (6) avoid excessive transfer costs; and (7) address any special issues (a child who cannot care for him/herself, etc.).
Now, that we have established what estate planning can do, let’s discuss who needs it. Simply stated, most people would benefit from some level of estate planning. Admittedly, for some people – all they really need is a simple will. But if any of the following apply to you, a simple will is unlikely to suffice:
1) Your estate exceeds the unified credit exemption equivalent. Currently the federal estate, gift, and generation skipping exemptions are all $5,430,000 (2015, the amount is adjusted annually for inflation).
2) Your combined state and federal income tax bracket exceeds 15%.
3) You have:
– Children who are minors.
– Adult children or other dependents that you expect to have their own wealth.
– Children or other dependents that are handicapped in some way or cannot care for themselves.
– A spouse that cannot, or will not, handle money, securities, or a business.
– Closely held business interests.
– Charitable objectives.
– Property in more than one state.
– Concerns for your heirs’ asset protection
4) You are a nonresident alien, resident alien, alien about to relocate to the U.S., considering becoming an expatriate, or you have property interests in foreign countries.