Make sure you have the appropriate documents in place to ensure your loved ones are cared for and your assets are distributed according to your wishes.
Potential Direct Financial Impact
- Any legal fees associated with the court probate process, especially if you do not designate an Executor in your Will.
- Costs associated with the inventory and appraisal of your property and assets upon your death, as part of the Will Probate Process.
- Estate debts and taxes are paid before the remaining assets are divided among your beneficiaries.
- Distribution of your property and assets upon your death according to the specific instructions outlined in your Last Will or as part of a testamentary trust under your Will.
- Distribution instructions from any will-substitutes, like trusts or beneficiary forms for life insurance, retirement accounts, or Payable on Death (POD or TOD), or Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship (JTWROS), supersede the wishes outlined in your Last Will and bypass the probate process altogether.
- Lump sum life insurance payout upon your death is typically tax-free and may help cover your family’s financial needs in the short and long-term.
Potential Secondary Impacts
- The need to put an estate plan in place to outline specific instructions for the transfer of assets to your beneficiaries.
- The need to designate a legal guardian for any children under age 18 as part of your Will.
- The need to name an executor to handle your estate’s legal and financial affairs.
- The need to outline your funeral wishes in your Last Will and/or in a separate letter.
- The need to evaluate strategies to determine the most tax efficient method to transfer of assets during your lifetime or as part of your estate.
- The need to determine if you would also like to set up a living or testamentary trust under your Will to set specific guidelines for distribution of your assets to your heirs, like what age your children and grandchildren would need to reach to access funds from a trust to limit financial irresponsibility.
- The potential need to outline specific instructions in your Will as to the sale or preservation of real property or family heirlooms.
- The need for your Executor to file IRS tax return form 706 for your Estate upon your death.
- The potential impact of the remaining lifetime gift tax exemption on your estate tax exemption.
Self Completion/Execution Risks
- Passing away without a Last Will in place would result in your state deciding how your assets are distributed as part of a lengthy court probate process. The more your family fights over the distribution of your assets, the more costly and lengthy the probate process is.
- Not designating a legal guardian to care for your children in the event that you and your spouse both passed away could result in the state determining custody.
- Not updating your Last Will and/or beneficiary forms could result in your assets being distributed to an ex-spouse or other person you may not want to benefit.
Situations Where Expertise Adds the Most Value
- Tax Adviser
Working with a tax advisor can help ensure that you not only understand how to take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion and file the IRS tax forms to track gifting under the lifetime exclusion, but also identify the types of assets and accounts that are best suited to transfer during your lifetime or as part of your estate.
- Legal Adviser
Depending on the complexity of your situation and the value of your estate relative to the estate tax exclusion, working with a trust and estates attorney can pay dividends. It is highly recommended that you set up a trust if you meet any of the following circumstances: have children from a former marriage and are in a second marriage now, have a special needs child, your spouse is not a US citizen and cannot qualify for the unlimited marital transfer, you own real estate in a non-resident state, you are in a non-traditional family situation, you anticipate that your estate will exceed the federal estate tax exemptions, you want to avoid probate and/or you want your estate plan to be private and non-contestable, you plan to leave a significant portion of your assets to a charity and would to realize some tax benefits now, and/or you have assets (or a business) that plan to gift to your heirs now before they appreciate more to minimize taxes.
- Financial Adviser
As your life evolves, it is critical to reassess your financial goals, estate planning needs and insurance coverage. The best way to identify any gaps in your plan and cover your bases is to work with a financial adviser who can look at all of the pieces of your financial picture holistically. Additionally, a financial adviser may be able to help you factor in your legacy planning into your retirement distribution strategy to determine how much you can sustainably withdraw each year during retirement and which accounts to draw down from first.
- Tax Adviser