Comprehensive estate plans often include precautionary measures that ensure your assets are protected and distributed according to your wishes. Many times, many of your assets will be distributed to your spouse. However, it is important to think ahead for every possible scenario when engaging in comprehensive estate planning to prevent any unnecessary interruptions in the distribution of your assets once you have passed on. Some or all of the provisions discussed below could be a good fit for your estate plan and protecting your assets.

Simultaneous-Death Clauses

One scenario you may need to consider when engaging in responsible, comprehensive estate planning is one in which you and your primary beneficiary die at the same time or in a manner where it isn’t possible to determine who died first. Popular among married couples that often plan to leave a large part or all of their estate to their spouse, this type of clause allows you to appoint an individual who will be named as the first to die in situations where authorities are unable to determine who died first.

There can be a lot of confusing terms involved in comprehensive estate planning. Estate plans are meant to be individual and flexible, and a New York estate planning attorney can provide you with a variety of options that help you create a plan that works for you and your wishes. One option that an estate planning attorney might present is a revocable trust, sometimes referred to as a living trust or a revocable living trust. The following provides some basic information about what these trusts are and how they operate.

What is a revocable trust?

Trusts are agreements between you and a third party in which you allow the third party, often referred to as a trustee, to hold assets for your beneficiaries. There are a variety of different kinds of trusts that each have different nuances that may work best for you. However, revocable trusts are often used in estate planning. A revocable trust is a trust you can create during your lifetime that may help you manage and protect your assets if you become ill or incapacitated. The American Bar Association notes that you may name yourself as trustee while also selecting a co-trustee, should you choose to do so. As the name states, revocable trusts can usually be created to be revoked or changed as you see fit. Revocable trusts should not be confused with irrevocable trusts which have distinct characteristics, especially related to taxes.

Estate planning is an important step in making sure your assets are secure and will be distributed according to your wishes when you die. It can be a complicated procedure, but an experienced New York estate planning attorney can help you make sure that your estate plan is comprehensive and in line with your particular wishes. However, it is important to remember that once you create an estate plan you should take steps to make sure it is secure and remember circumstances may arise that require you to revisit your estate plan and even possibly revise it.

Where should you keep your estate plan?

It is important to keep your estate plan in a secure location with limited access that will protect it from being damaged. Some individuals choose to use a safe deposit box at a bank while other choose a secure home safe option. If you elect to use a safe deposit box at a bank, it can sometimes be difficult to access that box if you pass away. This difficulty will prolong opening your estate and carrying out your wishes. However, safe deposit boxes do offer an extra layer of security for important documents within an estate plan.

Recently we published a blog about the difference between probate and non-probate assets . Probate is the legal process that occurs after a person’s death in which a court determines if a valid will exists and takes care of various legal aspects related to things like debts and distribution of probate assets. Usually, probate assets include assets that are owned individually and not governed by a contract. When a person dies without a valid will in place, a court will determine how your assets should be distributed according to your state’s law. However, this may not always be in line with your personal wishes.

What is intestate succession?

Intestate succession is the legal term used to describe the process by which a court will distribute your assets upon your death once other obligations, like debts, have been addressed if a person dies “intestate.” Dying intestate means that an individual is deceased but has not left a valid will. It is important to remember that not all wills are automatically valid, and there are certain statutes in each state that define what qualifies as a valid will. Each state has their own statutes governing the “line of succession,” a term used to refer to the path courts follow in distributing your assets if you die intestate.

What is New York’s intestate succession law?

As mentioned, each state has its own statutes governing intestate succession. According to the New York State Unified Court System, the basic line of succession is:

IF the Decedent Has: Then This Occurs:
A spouse but no children… The spouse inherits all assets.
Children but no spouse… The children inherit all assets.
Both a spouse and children… The spouse will inherit the first $50,000 of the estate as well as half of the remaining balance of the estate with the children inheriting the rest.
Parent(s) but no spouse and no children… The parent(s) will inherit everything.
Sibling(s) but no spouse, children, or parents… The sibling(s) will inherit everything.

Further things to note about children’s role in intestate succession include

  •      Adopted children are treated like biological children for purposes of inheritance;
  •      Foster and/or step-children will not inherit through the line of succession unless such children were legally adopted;
  •      Children of the Decedent but born after the Decedent’s death will inherit;
  •      Children born outside of a marriage will inherit from their father if paternity has been proven; and
  •      Grandchildren of a Decedent take the place of their deceased parent in the line of succession when such circumstances arise.

There are many other complex provisions related to the line of succession and intestate succession in New York in general.

As you can see, there are various circumstances where assets may be distributed by a court in the absences of a will that could be contrary to your wishes. It is important not just to think about how you want to distribute your assets, but to ensure that you take the steps to protect those assets and have them distributed according to your wishes. Having insurance policies or other non-probate assets can certainly help provide financial security for your loved ones after your death, but they do not cover all your assets. It is important to make sure that you have an estate plan that does.

A recent article from WealthManagement.com about potential changes to the federal estate tax may have important implications for you in the near future. While no specific plan has been presented, it is important to continuously evaluate your estate plan and stay abreast of any potential changes to the law that could affect your assets.

What is the federal estate tax?

The federal estate tax, sometimes disparagingly referred to as a death tax, is a tax imposed on your right to transfer property valued over a certain amount that kicks in when assets are distributed to heirs according to a Decedent’s will or intestate succession in the case of death without a valid will in place. The threshold for exempt estates changes year-by-year according to a formula approved by Congress. Basically, upon death an estate is appraised and given a value from which certain deductions can then be made. Once such eligible deductions are made, a “Taxable Estate” value remains. For Decedent’s passing in 2017, the federal estate tax only applies to estates with a taxable value of $5,490,000 or more. If a Decedent’s estate has a leftover exemption value – in other words, if a Decedent’s estate is less than the threshold for the year in which the death occurs – and leaves behind a surviving spouse, the remainder of the Decedent’s exemption may be passed on to the surviving spouse which could result in a higher exemption for that spouse. There are several other complex provisions related to how an estate is given its taxable value that an experienced estate planning attorney can help you understand.

While many individuals only need to worry about personal assets, some also need to make plans for the future of their business upon their death. In fact, one of the most essential components of owning is a business is ensuring that it will remain viable should you be unable to. As businesses tend to be owned individually, they usually qualify as an asset that must go through probate. Estate planning can take into account various aspects of business ownership and help ensure that your wishes for your business are carried out as you see fit. You can nominate a person or persons to take ownership of your business, create a financial plan for your business, or do numerous other things that will ensure your hard work continues to thrive the way you would like it to. There are several reasons why it is important for business owners to make provisions for their business as part of their estate plan.

Risk

Failing to create a comprehensive estate plan for a business that you own puts your hard work at risk. A business could potentially end up in probate with various people vying for ownership, which could spell trouble for the business itself as well as its profits. You also risk your business traveling down the line of succession in New York to an individual that you may not want in charge.

Taxes are never fun, but when it comes to estate planning taxes are a major concern for most people. Understanding the different types of estate taxes is an important part of creating a comprehensive estate plan to distribute your assets after you are deceased. To help you understand more about the estate tax and gift taxes, which are two common types of taxes many people are subject to in estate planning, the following information provides a brief introduction as to what these taxes are and when they may come into play for you.

Estate Tax

The good news about the federal estate tax is that, according to the IRS, most simple estates do not require filing an estate tax return. This is because only estates for decedents dying in 2017 valued at $5,490,000 or more are subject to this tax. Generally, the estates exempt from this tax are adjusted for the annual rate of inflation, so the value of exempt estates can change from year to year. As a general rule, marital gifts – or those where an estate passes to a surviving spouse – are wholly exempt from the federal estate tax, which does not kick in until the estate passes down the line to a person’s heirs. For estates valued at or over the legally prescribed threshold for the federal estate tax that pass to heirs, the maximum effective tax rate is 40 percent. There are many steps involved in computing what qualifies as your taxable estate as well as deductions that may change the value of your estate which can be discussed with an experienced estate planning attorney to help you make choices about your assets that will ease the financial tax burden that could otherwise accompany the distribution of your assets.

When you make the decision to see an experienced estate planning attorney to make a comprehensive estate plan to safeguard your assets and provide for your heirs, it can be a confusing process filled with a lot of legal terminology that might be new for most people. One of the biggest considerations in estate planning, and often one of the most confusing parts of it, is the effect taxes will have on an estate. To help you make the most informed decisions about what route you choose in planning your estate, it is important to have a full understanding of the different types of taxes that may come into play. One of those is known as the generation-skipping transfer tax, and the following information may be helpful in understanding it.

Life Estates

To fully understand the generation-skipping transfer tax, you first need to understand what a life estate is. A life estate is a type of estate in which ownership of real property – basically, a home and the land which accompanies it – is passed to another person and ends upon that person’s death. At that time, it may revert back to the original owner or it could pass along to someone else depending on the conditions you choose to set. In New York, life estates can be an easy way to ensure real property passes smoothly upon death without the need for probate. Life estates are also exempt from the federal estate tax. Usually, creating a life estate is a simple process, as is the transfer of property upon an owner’s death.

Creating an estate plan is an effective way to ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes while minimizing hardships that could otherwise result for loved ones and friends. However, creating a comprehensive estate plan is often just the beginning and there are important reasons why you can and should revise your estate plan. A recent article from Forbes lists the following as important reasons to revise your estate plan:

Significant Changes in Value of Estate

A significant change in the value of your estate may be reason for you to reevaluate how you want your assets to be distributed. You may wish to increase the number of people you include as heirs or adjust the amount you have chosen to distribute. A significant change in the value of your estate should be accompanied by appropriate revisions to your estate plan.

The financial market is expansive and can change overnight. NextAvenue.org recently wrote about several important ways retirement is likely to change in 2017 that could impact millions of people and require you to engage in or reevaluate your estate planning. According to the article, several things you should pay attention to include:

Tax Cuts Are Likely

Tax laws are continuously changing, and the new administration has proposed some rather significant changes to the tax code. If these changes become a reality, it may important for people to look at investments like their IRA and convert it to a more tax-friendly asset, like a Roth IRA. This can help investors and those planning retirement accounts to take advantage of more favorable tax consequences that could help them keep more of their money in the long run.

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