Estate Planning is defined as the process of determining how your wealth and assets should be transferred to the heirs of your choice: your children, grandchildren, friends, families, charitable causes, etc. and then deciding which legal tools and structures to use to best meet your estate planning goals. Estate planning is not simply reducing or eliminating taxes and avoiding probate. There was a time when tax reduction was the main focus of most estate plans, even for middle class families. Back then, before the 2001 tax law, the estate tax was imposed on all estates worth more than $600,000. The estate tax captured many middle class people if they didn’t have a plan to reduce their estate tax liability.
Only after establishing how you want your estate’s assets to be distributed should you consider ways to reduce taxes and avoid probate. From there, good estate plans deal with a host of other issues. Now, with all but a few estates exempt from the federal estate tax, those other issues are, or should be, at the forefront of estate planning. Indeed, estate planning is about much more than tax reduction. That’s a good thing for many people. Too often in the past, the other issues didn’t receive enough attention. Now, estate planners are making sure they are fully addressed. Although lawyers and others like to call this process Estate Planning, a better description would be Inheritance Planning.
The old tax laws distorted estate planning to make it mostly about tax planning in many people’s eyes. In fact, there are more important estate planning goals than tax reduction and always have been.
An estate plan is to ensure that you are taken care of the rest of your life and that your wealth is transferred to the people you want to have it. A good estate plan ensures these goals are accomplished with as much efficiency and as little cost as possible. A good estate plan also can smooth family relationships, while a bad estate plan makes bad family relationships worse and even turns good relationships into bad ones.
An estate plan addresses the management and distribution of an individual’s property and financial obligations after he or she dies with financial tools such as wills, revocable living trusts and power of attorney.
Estate planning is one of the most important actions a person can take to provide for his or her loved ones before dying. Estate planning helps transfer property and provides life insurance, disability income and long-term care insurance to family, friends and loved ones with few legal hurdles.
- Bob Carlson