You’ve worked hard to create a secure and comfortable lifestyle for your family — but how will they fare in the future?
Though it might be difficult to consider, part of smart money management includes planning for your loved ones after you’re gone.
With some forethought, you can minimize gift and estate taxes — and preserve more of your hard-earned assets for the people you care about.
HOW TO PERFORM A NEEDS EVALUATION
When it comes to estate planning, no two situations are alike.
Even if you don’t have a great deal of wealth, you’ll need to do some planning — and if you have substantial assets, it’ll probably get pretty complex.
Whichever boat you’re in, here are two key steps you should take.
#1. Estate Analysis
The first is to complete an in-depth review of your present estate-settlement arrangements. This will reveal potential problems, and also provide information upon which you can base future decisions.
Here’s an example: You may believe your current arrangements are taken care of through a will that leaves everything to your spouse. But, if you’ve named anyone else as a beneficiary on other documents — life insurance policies, retirement or pension plans, joint property deeds — those instructions, not your will, will dictate where those assets go.
In other words? It’s important to ensure that all your instructions work harmoniously to follow your exact wishes.
#2. Estate Settlement Cost Analysis
This next step takes a look at the costs of distributing your estate.
In estimating these costs, you’ll test the effectiveness of various estate plans; you’ll compare each option by changing the estate arrangements, the inflation and dates of distribution assumptions, and specific personal and charitable bequests.
This will help you determine which one will leave your heirs with the least costs — and the fewest headaches.
YOUR ESTATE PLANNING CHECKLIST
Ready to make sure your estate is in good shape?
While a basic will may adequately serve your needs, you should still meet with a professional to ensure your plan is consistent with your goals.
To start with, review the checklist below. It’ll help you see where there are holes in your plan, and where you could use a little more insight. After going through it, make an appointment with a qualified legal professional to assess your situation.
Part 1: Communicating Your Wishes
- Do you have a will?
- Are you comfortable with the executor(s) and trustee(s) you’ve selected?
- Have you executed a living will or health care proxy in the event of catastrophic illness or disability?
- Have you considered a living trust to avoid probate?
- If you have a living trust, have you titled your assets in the name of the trust?
Part 2: Protecting Your Family
- Does your will name a guardian for your children if both you and your spouse are deceased?
- If you want to limit your spouse’s flexibility regarding the inheritance, have you created a qualified terminable interest property (QTIP) trust?
- Do you have the right amount and type of life insurance for survivor income, loan repayment, capital needs, and estate settlement expenses?
- Have you considered an irrevocable life insurance trust to exclude the insurance proceeds from being taxed as part of your estate?
- Have you considered creating trusts for family gift giving?
Part 3: Reducing Your Tax Burden
- If you’re married, are you taking full advantage of the marital deduction?
- Is your estate plan designed to take advantage of your applicable exclusion amount?
- Are you making gifts to family members that take advantage of the $17,000 annual gift tax exclusion?
- Have you gifted assets with a strong probability of future appreciation, in order to maximize future estate tax savings?
- Have you considered charitable trusts that could provide you with both estate and income tax benefits?
Part 4: Protecting Your Business
- If you own a business, do you have a management succession plan?
- Do you have a buy/sell agreement for your family business interests?
- Have you considered a gift program that involves your family-owned business, especially in light of “estate freeze” rules?
Estate planning is an ongoing process. Although completing this checklist is a brilliant first step, you’ll still need to perform periodic reviews to make sure it matches your changing goals.
And, because estate planning often entails many facets of your finances, it’ll often require the coordinated efforts of legal, tax, insurance, and financial professionals.
The most important thing to remember? Though it might seem overwhelming or morbid to think about, proper estate planning is one of the greatest gifts you can give your family.
If you would like to discuss this, or any other topic affecting your financial life, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Laryssa Freeman, CFP® is a member of the Fee-Only Network. She offers two options for new clients depending upon their needs:
1) Project-Based Financial Planning Service on a flat fee basis. The implementation of the plan is done by the client. The scope of work for the Project-Based Financial Planning Service may include the following topics based on the client’s needs: Retirement Planning, Estate Planning, Development of Financial Goals, Investment Analysis, Risk Management, College Planning and Tax Planning Strategies.
2) Comprehensive Financial Planning which includes all of the services above plus investment management and financial plan implementation by Meritage Wealth Management.