Estate planning is an essential step to help protect the wealth that you've spent your life building. Meeting with an estate planner will help to create a comprehensive plan that will allow your assets to effectively pass to your assigned beneficiaries. Creating this initial plan can feel overwhelming, and we are here to help you prepare.
Here are five important questions you can expect to discuss with your estate advisor as you start to plan for your future.
How Would You Like Your Wealth to Pass to Your Heirs or Elsewhere?
The basis of your estate plan is where you want to direct your wealth and how you'd like that to happen. No matter how large or small your estate is, you'll need to decide how it should be distributed among children, grandchildren, other family members or favorite charity organizations. For example, this could mean leaving different parties a percentage of your total assets, or leaving one child your business and another child your vacation home.
It’s important to also think about whether you want your beneficiaries to receive their inheritance all at once or not. If you have a disabled child requiring lifelong care on your list, or someone who needs a little extra help managing their money, you may want a trust or annuity structure in place to pay out the inheritance in increments.
What Can Be Done to Prevent Costs and Conflicts for Your Heirs?
Costs for your beneficiaries are most likely to come up if your estate needs to go through probate, which is the process by which a court distributes your assets. In addition to financial costs, there are other reasons to avoid probate. Probate can be a long and exhausting process – meaning, your heirs will not be able to access your estate right away. If you have dependents who will rely on the money in your estate, this can be an especially serious concern. In addition, probate adds your estate information to the public record, which you may want to avoid. There are several strategies your financial advisor might recommend to avoid probate. These include placing assets in a trust and moving funds into joint accounts with your beneficiaries.
Conflict among heirs is another common concern, especially in families where conflict already exists. While the legal documents included in your estate should help minimize disagreements and make it more difficult for someone to contest your wishes, communication during your lifetime is important as well. Disagreements often surround specific items like jewelry or sentimental pieces rather than your financial assets. Labeling these items, writing a letter of instruction and starting to pass on these things during your lifetime can all help make your intentions clear.
How Can You Reduce Your Tax Burden?
After a lifetime of working to earn your money, you likely want to direct your wealth to your loved ones rather than the government. In 2023, only estates valued at $12.92 million (or $25.84 million for some married couples) or more may be subject to the federal estate tax. If, upon your death, the total value of your estate is less than the applicable exclusion amount, no federal estate taxes will be due.
Depending on the state you live in, your heirs or your estate might also be subject to state estate or inheritance taxes. If taxes are a concern for your estate, there are several ways to reduce your tax burden.
One simple option is to start passing money along during your lifetime. Based on the 2022 gift tax exemption limit, individuals can give up to $16,000 per recipient per year. This lets you give money directly to your children or grandchildren while reducing the value of your estate, which will reduce your tax bill. Other options include a marital trust, which allows one spouse to place assets in trust for the other spouse, and an irrevocable life insurance trust, which can pay for life insurance premiums with tax-deductible funds and then avoid estate taxes later on.
Are You Already Working with Financial Professionals?
If you're already working with an estate attorney, a financial planner or a tax professional, it's important for your estate planner to understand the strategies your existing financial team has recommended. You'll want to make sure that all of these members of your team are working together so you aren't paying for duplicated efforts or conflicting suggestions.
If you aren't already working with a financial team, your estate planner may recommend that you do so depending on the details of your estate plan. If you have complex tax concerns, you might need to talk to a tax expert. Depending on the type of trust that you wish to establish, you may need an estate attorney to set it up.
How Will Changes in Your Life Change Your Estate Plan?
Your estate plan should have the flexibility to adapt to changes in your lifestyle, family structure or life expectancy. Your initial plan will be based on your current circumstances, but you should consider potential future concerns and possible solutions.
Divorce and Remarriage
Divorce and remarriage are common life changes that can affect your estate plan. If you remarry, you may not want your new spouse to manage the inheritance of your children from the first marriage. This can create the need for a new trust to be established. In addition, if you have more children in later marriages, you will again need to update your estate plan.
Life Expectancy and Medical Issues
There are other lifestyle considerations that might change as well. For example, if based on your family history you expect to live into your 90s, you might not want to start giving away assets to avoid estate taxes. And if medical issues arise and your life expectancy changes, you will likely need to adjust your plan.
While you won't need to make any decisions based on hypotheticals, it's a good idea to discuss the possibilities.
How to Get Started?
Your estate plan is a key component of your Life Plan. To create an estate plan that addresses the above questions and any other concerns you may have, you'll need to start by finding the right estate advisor. Talk to the Trilogy Financial team to take control of your finances today while maximizing your future opportunities.