Estate Planning
The two central goals of estate planning are ONE to make certain that the assets and valuables are distributed to the intended beneficiaries and TWO to minimize Federal Estate Tax. 

One way to accomplish these goals is through a Revocable Living Trust. The husband and wife are the grantors and original trustees of the trust, controlling the assets during their lives. At the death of the first to die, selected assets (income-earning assets such as financial accounts, rental houses and buildings and farms) are placed in a family trust that utilizes some or all of the credit against Federal Estate Tax. The income from the trust goes to the surviving spouse during his or her lifetime. At the death of the surviving spouse both trusts, the revocable living trust and the family trust, are distributed to the beneficiaries according to the language of the trusts. All assets, including houses, automobiles and accounts, are held in the name of the Revocable Living Trust, until the family trust is created and then those selected assets are held in the name of the family trust. In this way, the credit against Federal Estate Tax for both spouses is utilized and the Federal Estate Tax is minimized. This is important because the Federal Estate Tax rate is very, very high, starting at 35%, with a top rate of 40%.

 

Another way to distribute assets to beneficiaries is a Last Will and Testament, which serves the need to control the distribution of assets but does not minimize Federal Estate Taxes. The individual credit against Federal Estate Tax for individuals dying in 2015 is $5,430,000, with a top Estate Tax rate of 40%. The individual credit increases for individuals dying in 2016 is $5,450,000 with a top Estate Tax rate of 40%.

 

Please email or call for an appointment if you want to discuss your situation in light of the changes to the Federal Estate Tax system. As always, there is no charge for an initial consultation for tax and other legal matters. Other documents that complete the estate plan are as follows: 

Durable Power of Attorney (for financial purposes), which allows you to designate the person or persons you appoint to make financial decisions when you are not able to make them. The Durable Power of Attorney is effective during periods of your incapacity or disability and then lapses upon your death, when the executor of your will takes over. 

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, which allows you to designate the person or persons you appoint to make health care decisions when you are not able to make them. 

Living Will/Medical Directive, which allows you to give directions to your doctor or doctors concerning your wishes pertaining to resuscitation, heroic measures taken to prolong your life, artificial administration of nutrition and hydration and the control of pain. 

HIPAA Authorization Form, which allow you to designate the person or persons you wish to have access to your health care records. Some things to bring with you for an estate planning consultation include the following: 

1. Obtain and bring along all your life insurance policies. 

2. If you have minor children (under age 18), consider whom you would like to appoint as their guardians if they are orphaned. Also, try to identify alternate conservators and guardians. 

3. Consider which individuals or institutions you would like to serve as the executor and alternate executor(s) of your estate. The executor has the duty to gather all your assets, discharge all your liabilities, comply with inheritance tax laws, carry out the provisions of your Will, and so on. 

4. If you have children who are minors or young adults, we recommend that any significant inheritances to which they may become entitled be placed in a Trust until they reach a mature age. Please consider at what age you would want them to receive some or all of their inheritance outright. 


5. Consider what institution you would designate as the trustee of any amounts which may be placed in trust under the provisions of your Will. 

6. Consider how you want your estate distributed in the disastrous event that your entire immediate family is lost. 7. If possible, obtain the exact names and addresses of any individuals or institutions, such as colleges or churches, that are not in this area but that may be named in your Will. 8. Prepare and bring with you an informal personal financial statement, showing your assets (and liabilities), a rough estimate of their value, and how they are owned (jointly or individually, and by whom).


The matters listed above are ones that typically come up at an estate planning conference. It will help the meeting go more smoothly if you can address yourself to them prior to our appointment. (But again, if you are unable to do so, or prefer not to, do not postpone the appointment.)