10 Things Estate Planning
Can Do for You
The first step in planning your estate is identifying your major objectives. Here are some typical objectives and preliminary suggestions on meeting them.
1. Provide for your immediate family. Couples want to provide enough money for the surviving spouse. They often choose to provide this income through life insurance, particularly for spouses who don't work outside of the home. Couples with children want to assure their education and upbringing. If you have children under 18, both you and your spouse should have a will nominating personal guardians for the children, in case you both should die before they grow up. Otherwise, a court will decide without your input where your kids will live and who will make important decisions about their money, education, and way of life.
2. Provide for other relatives who need help and guidance. Do you have family members whose lives might become more difficult without you, such as an elderly parent or disabled child, or a grandchild whose education you want to assure? You could establish a special trust fund for family members who need support that you won't be there to provide.
3. Get your property to beneficiaries quickly. You want your beneficiaries to receive promptly the property you've left them. Options include avoiding or greatly easing probate through insurance paid directly to beneficiaries, joint tenancy, POD's a living trust or other means (chapters 2 and 5); using simplified or expedited probate available in all states, though sometimes only for very small estates or if all beneficiaries agree and provide partial payments to beneficiaries while a will is in probate.
4. Plan for incapacity. During estate planning, most people these days also plan for possible mental or physical incapacity. This planning is especially important for single people. Living wills and durable health-care powers of attorney enable you to decide in advance about life support and pick someone to make decisions for you about medical treatment. In addition, disability insurance can protect you and your family if you should become disabled and unable to work.
5. Minimize expenses. Everyone wants to keep the cost of transferring property to beneficiaries as low as possible, which leaves more money for the beneficiaries. Good estate planning can reduce these expenses significantly (see final sections of this chapter and chapters 2, 3, 4, and 5).
6. Choose executors/trustees for your estate. Choosing competent executors/trustees and giving them the necessary authority will save money, reduce the burden on your survivors, and simplify administration of your estate. It also will reduce a court's involvement and, in many states, avoid paying for a bond. See chapters 3 and 10.
7. Ease the strain on your family. Many people take a burden from their grieving survivors and plan their funeral arrangements when planning their estate (see chapter 11). Or you may simply want to limit the expense of your burial or designate its place. You also can provide for your body to be cremated or given to medical science after you die.
8. Help a favorite cause. Your estate plan can help support religious, educational, and other charitable causes, either during your lifetime or upon your death, and at the same time take advantage of tax laws designed to encourage private philanthropy (see chapter 8).
9. Reduce taxes on your estate. Every dollar your estate has to pay in estate or inheritance taxes is a dollar that your beneficiaries won't get. A good estate plan can give the maximum allowed by law to your beneficiaries and the minimum to the government. This becomes especially important as your estate approaches the magic number of $1 million, the level at which the federal estate tax kicks in under current law. Chapter 8 briefly discusses this topic.
10. Make sure your business goes on smoothly. If you have a small business, the operation might be thrown into chaos upon your death. You can provide for an orderly succession and continuation of its affairs by spelling out what will happen to your interest in the business. See chapter 7.
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