No Estate Taxes Doesn’t Mean No Estate Planning

(ARA) - Recent changes in tax laws have given many Americans greater assurance that their assets will go to their loved ones and not the government. While an estate may not be subjected to taxes, taxation isn’t the primary problem.

The real concern is which family member is to receive which piece of property and will that decision be seen as fair and equal when there is more than one beneficiary? Do the children have equal abilities or experience to manage a property? Should they own property together or separately? Are their needs served fairly by equal distributions and how do you really equalize? Do they live near the property or across the country? Which child received more financial help in their education and maturing process? Which ones haven’t been there yet? Would an equal distribution of the assets create additional tax problems for a very financially successful child?

You may think that estate planning doesn’t apply to your situation because your assets total less than $1.5 million -- but there’s more to it. While your personal assets may fall below the mark, it’s important to consider joint property, insurance proceeds upon your death and other factors often forgotten as assets.

“People mistakenly think only the wealthy need estate planning,” says Mike Halloran, a director with the National Association of Estate Planners. “But you could be missing out on important benefits, alienate your children and not even realize it.”

Halloran points to the $1.5 million exemption as an example: If not dealt with properly, assets could be taxed as high as 42 percent, instead of zero percent, resulting in a large loss for your beneficiaries. Or the business Dad and Mom made successful being given to one child “because he works there” and the other children don’t. Or worse yet, giving the business to all the children, but only one works there and the others are out of the area and can’t contribute to the continued success of the business, but still share in the profits.

Who is going to get Mom’s engagement ring? Which boy gets the special old shotgun they both want? Yes, estate planning is a process and it needs the guidance of a trained, experienced professional to make it work properly. Look ahead to the future of your surviving spouse. If a husband’s assets go to his wife upon his death, and any jointly held assets become hers as well, her estate may have a net worth that exceeds the tax break.

Without careful planning, you may not be able to leave your survivors with the security you wished. Your estate plan should allow you to give what you want to whom you want to receive it, the way you want them to receive it and when you want them to receive it. Your estate plan should save every tax dollar, professional fee and court cost that is legally possible to save.

To begin the process, assemble and summarize all your financial data -- personal finance statements, income tax returns, trust documents, life insurance information, etc. Next, begin to think about your goals and priorities. Do you need to provide financial security for loved ones? Perhaps you most want to assure excess taxes and probate costs are avoided. Maybe you’re most concerned about the smooth transfer of ownership of a business.

Once you have identified your top interests, you and your financial planner can develop the strategies that will form the basis of your estate plan. Remember, estate planning is an ongoing process. Take the time to periodically review your plan to assure that it still meets your goals.

To ensure the best choice for you and your family, enlist the services of an accredited estate planner. Among the professionals you should consider are a state certified estate planning attorney or estate planning specialist (EPLS); a certified public accountant (CPA), practicing in the estate planning area; a chartered life underwriter (CLU); a certified financial planner (CFP); a chartered financial consultant (ChFC); and an accredited estate planner (AEP).

These professionals can help guide you through the web of state and federal laws, as well as offer advice on planned giving and asset allocation. The National Association of Estate Planners and Councils (NAEPC) offers a list of members to help you find experts in your area. Visit their Web site at www.naepc.org or call toll-free at (866) 226-2224.

Courtesy of ARA Content



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