Laws governing estate planning are extremely complex and can change frequently. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney can help you anticipate changes to applicable laws as well as adjust your estate plan to continue providing the benefits you want whenever the law does change. One of the most misunderstood elements of estate planning involves the estate tax. Many individuals don’t believe the estate tax will apply to them because their estates are not large enough to exceed the exemption allowed, which in 2017 is $5.49 million for individuals and $10.98 million for married couples. While this is often true, many people often don’t calculate the value of their estate correctly. Even an otherwise average estate can exceed the exemption limit, especially if you factor in one spouse dying first and the second spouse inheriting the bulk of first spouse’s estate. However, there are tools that can protect your assets from the estate tax by keeping it within your allotted exemption amount.

Portability Elections

A portability election is a tool available to spouse’s that survive the other spouse. When one person in a marriage dies, their estate is totaled to determine what – if any – tax consequences are triggered. When a first-to-die spouse’s estate is completely covered by the individual estate tax exemption and the bulk of the assets within that estate pass to the surviving spouse, this can cause the surviving spouse’s estate to surpass the individual estate tax exemption limit so that the combined value of the estates of both the first-to-die spouse and surviving spouse are taxed when the surviving spouse passes away. A portability election allows a surviving spouse to use leftover exemption amounts from the first-to-die spouse so there is a chance that the surviving spouse’s personal exemption can be combined with the leftover exemption from the first-to-die spouse to shield the surviving spouse’s estate from the estate tax, too.

Understanding the different aspects of estate planning is a crucial part of creating a comprehensive estate plan that accomplishes your individual goals. For probate assets, many individuals utilize a Last will and Testament to direct the distribution of assets subject to probate. Non-probate assets, such as life insurance policies and assets held within a trust, are distributed upon death according to the mechanism for distribution contained within the asset and are usually directed by the nomination of a beneficiary. It is extremely important to remember beneficiary nominations when creating, reviewing, and revising your estate plan.

Common Beneficiary Pitfalls

One common beneficiary pitfall occurs with assets like bank accounts that often have a payable on death beneficiary option. With these options, a bank is directed to distribute assets within the account covered by that designation to the person listed as the payable on death beneficiary. This can cause unintended problems if your Last Will and Testament directs your bank assets to be distributed differently, and may result in an unintended Will contest that could jeopardize other aspects of your Will. Making sure that beneficiaries for these types of assets are properly aligned with other provisions of your estate planning documents is an important part of ensuring your wishes are carried out.

Estate planning can be an uncomfortable and confusing topic for many people. Nobody necessarily likes thinking about what will happen when they die. However, estate planning is an important activity for adults to consider, even those in their 20s and 30s. A recent article from USA Today highlights the need for millennials to consider estate planning as part of their plans as they move forward. In fact, the article cites a 2015 study that found more than 60 percent of Americans don’t have a will. This number likely includes a disproportionate number of millennials.

Responsible Financial Planning

Responsible, comprehensive financial planning doesn’t just involve being good with money. In the still-lingering shadow of the most recent recession and with an increased potential to carry large amounts of student loan debt, it isn’t uncommon for millennials to have a sense of the importance of treating money responsibly. However, while short-term money management can provide the foundation for a lifetime of financial stability, it is important to keep long-term financial planning in mind, too. Long-term financial planning includes the creation of a comprehensive estate plan that includes documents such as a Last Will and Testament, power of attorney, trust, and/or other related financial planning documents. As the article notes, these things are not just important for older adults – but for everyone.

The estate planning process can be complex and confusing, which is one of the reasons it is a good idea to work with an experienced estate planning attorney as part of creating a comprehensive estate planning strategy. This is especially true for business owners. Recently, we wrote about some important estate planning considerations for business owners. One potential question many business owners may have when considering estate planning for their business is whether or not it is a good idea to remain in control of their business or transfer their business to their heirs.

When a business owner wants to remain in charge of their business, this can be a difficult question because transferring the ownership of a business can often mean transferring the management responsibilities of the business, too. While the answer as to whether or not remaining in control of your business is right for you depends on each business owner’s individual circumstances, one possible technique to consider is business recapitalization. Business recapitalization will allow you to separate ownership from management, and could be the right strategy for you.

Benefits of Recapitalization

Comprehensive estate planning involves more than just creating a Last Will and Testament and possibly a trust for your heirs. Estate planning is also an opportunity for you to make sure that your wishes for end-of-life care and other related decisions are known to those who will administer your estate, your loved ones, and your estate planning attorney. For many people, part of end-of-life planning and care often includes nominating a Health Care Proxy. The State of New York Office of the Attorney General offers individuals some clarification and advice related to a New York Health Care Proxy.

Health care Proxy: An Introduction

In New York, a Health Care Proxy is available to anyone over the age of 18. The purpose of a Health Care Proxy is to allow you to appoint a trusted person to make health care decisions for you should you be unable to make such decisions yourself. The inability to make health care decisions could arise because you are being kept alive via artificial means such as life support machines or even because you are unconscious for certain medical reasons. When a health care agent has been entrusted with the authority to remove you from or prevent you from undergoing potentially life sustaining treatments or procedures, New York requires that a second doctor must confirm the original doctor’s determination that you are unable to make your own health care decisions.

In general, estate planning can be a difficult topic for many people. It can be especially difficult and personal when it comes to determining specific funeral plans that you may have. However, even though it is a difficult subject, it is important to consider how funeral planning as part of comprehensive estate planning can actually help your loved ones be more at ease when the time comes for them to make decisions regarding your funeral arrangements. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal serves as a reminder that if you are considering estate planning or have already created a comprehensive estate plan, you may want to consider including a funeral planning document to help your loved ones make decisions related to burial in accordance with your wishes.

Funeral Planning Documents

While planning for end-of-life care can be complex, ensuring that you do so accurately and completely is critical to saving your loved ones from unnecessary hardships as well as for ensuring that your wishes are adhered to. Including funeral planning documents can be an important part of the process. Many people are aware of other end-of-life forms, like a Healthcare Proxy nomination, but overlook funeral planning.

Dogs, cats, parakeets, horses, iguanas, ferrets…no matter the pet you have in your life, chances are you treat them more like family than just a possession. We want to make sure our pets are comfortable, have the best food, have plenty of entertainment, are healthy, and enjoy a long, happy life. It is possible to make sure that those conditions exist for pets even after pet owners pass away. By utilizing a trust, you can help make sure that your best friend is well taken care of.

Pet Trusts

A recent article in USA Today talks about the function that a pet trust can serve. Pet care can be very expensive. There are grooming costs, medical costs, food costs, and other costs related to keeping a pet. Generally, the bigger the pet, the greater the cost of care can be. In fact, the article notes that Americans spent roughly $62.8 billion on pet care in 2016. While pet trusts are certainly less common than trusts created for human heirs, they can serve an important purpose in making sure that any pets you have can enjoy the same quality of life after your passing that you were able to provide for them.

If you have assets that will likely appreciate in value, including property that provides income or stocks that demonstrate growth potential, there are ways you can plan accordingly to help you avoid severe tax consequences that might otherwise be related to retaining these assets or allowing them to become part of your general estate.

Two potential vehicles for you to explore are grantor retained annuity trusts (GRATs) and grantor retained unitrusts (GRUTs). With both of these options, you retain an interest in the income from assets placed in the trust. While there are taxes associated with each of these, they may be less costly than other options depending on your individual circumstances.

The Basics

For most people going through estate planning, the goal is to pass on as many assets and as much wealth as possible. Most people don’t engage in estate planning with the goal of paying the most taxes possible or distributing assets to creditors. In fact, creditors can take a bigger chunk out of your assets than taxes can, so if you want to avoid costly claims during your lifetime and upon death that could significantly impact your estate it is important to take proactive steps to protect your assets from creditors as part of a comprehensive estate planning strategy.

In fact, there are several strategies that could help you save on taxes while keeping your assets secure from creditors, though it is important to make sure that whichever actions you choose comply with the Uniform Voidable Transactions Act that covers the transfer of assets in an attempt to defraud existing creditors. Some options for protecting your assets from creditors that comply with the provisions of this act might include:

Gifting

A growing family often includes children. Sometimes, children come with special needs that need to be attended to throughout their lives. These special needs can include physical, mental, emotional, and/or developmental disabilities. When such needs arise, they can cost a great deal of money on a regular basis. A common concern parents or family members of individuals with special needs often have is how those individuals with special needs will be taken care of later in lifer when parents or family members have passed on. For these families, a special needs trust might be the answer.

An Introduction to Special Needs Trusts

A special needs trust is a trust established to address the long term needs of an individual with a disability that may require lifelong care. Many individuals with disabilities may qualify for state benefits and assistance to help offset the cost of long-term medical care and other costs that may arise. If the parents or family members of a person with special needs were to leave assets to the person with special needs, the inheritance may cause the individual to lose benefits provided by the state because the inheritance could cause their income to surpass the level under which a person is eligible for state benefits.

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