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A number of well-known celebrities who were worth millions, including Princess Diana, Prince, Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson, and Kurt Cobain, have passed away in recent years without an up-to-date estate plan or without any estate plan at all. As a result, lengthy and stressful legal battles were fought over their assets and were decided by people they did not get to choose.

While most people don’t have the same amount of wealth as these celebrities, it doesn’t make estate planning any less important to be able to leave a legacy and pass down wealth to family members.

The No. 1 Estate Planning Mistake

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There has been more of a spotlight on legacy planning and the need to get our estate plans in order during the last year. Along with the prospect of a lower estate tax exemption and an aging baby boomer population, 2021 is the perfect time to focus on estate planning and on making sure important documents are up-to-date.

Since the current elevated estate credit is set to expire in 2025, many people were already anticipating the need for a trust before the pandemic began. This year brought an urgency to people’s focus on making sure their financial and legal affairs are in order in case of an illness or death.

Estate planning attorneys saw a lot of 2020 year-end gifting. Many people are trying to plan for the possibility of some of the previous administration’s reforms being rolled back – especially the estate tax lifetime exemption (currently set at $11,000,000, adjusted for inflation) now that Biden has been elected president and Democrats control both the House and Senate.

President Biden is entering the White House during a historic and very difficult time. Many people have suffered great loss this year, especially as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The focus of his inauguration address was a call for unity and for getting the pandemic under control. At this point, tax reform does not seem to be one of President Biden’s first main goals.

Most legislation requires 60 votes in the Senate to pass, so Democrats would need both Republican support and to keep the support of moderates in their own party in order to pass tax reform. Although it is possible that tax reform could pass late in 2021 and be retroactive to January 1, most tax advisors don’t think this is likely. Instead, if tax reform does pass this year, many think it is more likely to happen toward the end of the year and be effective in 2022.

Last week I wrote about beneficiary designations, and today I will finish writing on that topic and talk about different ways these designations may be set.

In the case of many contracts, as well as a will or trust, you can pre-determine how assets might be divided if one or more of the beneficiaries has already passed away before receiving their share of the inheritance.

Suppose a mother has three adult children who are the primary beneficiaries of her life insurance policy. Upon the mother’s death, each of her three children would receive one third of the policy proceeds.

When it comes to estate planning, one item that can often be forgotten or overlooked but can also be easily remedied is updating your beneficiary designations. Taking an hour of your time now to look these over can ensure you have a say in what happens to these funds when you’re gone.

A beneficiary – which can be either a person, entity, or charity – is named to make the transfer of money quick, easy, and clear. While people often choose their spouse, child, or another family member to be the beneficiary, you can also choose a trustee of a trust, an estate, or a charity.

The most common accounts that allow you to name a beneficiary to inherit the account value upon your death are:

The beginning of any new year is a good time to reflect, look forward, and plan for the future – especially this year with a pandemic that has made self-reflection that much more important.

So many things have changed, including things we took for granted or overlooked before now. We as individuals have also changed during this time.

Most of us have faced the fact that we are not immortal, and we may have thought more about our own aging and immortality this year than we had in previous years.

There is no one-size-fits-all tax planning strategy, especially this year with so many new factors and uncertainties. The current pandemic has had a great impact on all of us as it has brought mortality to the forefront of our minds and prompted a lot of people to review estate planning strategies.

Because of the current low interest rate environment, now is a good time to consider the techniques available to transfer wealth to other family members at substantially reduced gift tax cost.

A Grantor Retained Annuity Trust, or GRAT, is one estate planning tool used to minimize taxes on large financial gifts to family members. Using this method, property can be transferred to an irrevocable trust for a specific period of time in exchange for annual annuity payments, and the beneficiary receives the remaining assets at the end of the trust term. When interest rates are low, it is more likely that the amount passing to the beneficiary will be greater than the calculated amount of the gift, allowing them to receive assets gift-tax free.

Everything can go more smoothly when tailored to fit an individual’s needs. This is especially true of estate planning, as Carol Ann Fey, of counsel at Artz, Dewhirst & Wheeler in Columbus, and Mary Eileen Vitale, principal at HW & Co. CPAs & Advisors in Beachwood, explain:

“The reason (to personalize your estate plan) is to make sure assets are taken care of properly and they end up going where you want them going forward,” Vitale says. “So, you want to make sure the parameters get assets transferred correctly. For example, if a beneficiary has special needs that need to be taken care of, you want to make sure your documents do that. Generic documents don’t typically take care of that. Even if you have ‘regular circumstances,’ everyone’s ‘regular’ is going to be different and you don’t know how that will affect how assets transfer.”

One clear example of this is do-it-yourself estate planning templates. Although there are a number of these templates available online that may appear to get the job done, it is difficult to know if these very general plans will end up covering everything you need.

It’s nearly always imperative to take a multi-faceted approach to estate planning as it involves the health and finances of multiple people. Ensuring that family and loved ones are taken care of in the way that benefits them most requires proper planning. One estate planning tool that is especially helpful is a life insurance policy.

Life insurance, much like a last will and testament, is recognized by most people as something used upon death. However, the benefits of a life insurance policy, the options available for it, and possible unexpected consequences are not always well known.

People often think of life insurance as income replacement for an individual’s dependents, and this is especially important for those who are a significant provider for their households. It is also important to keep in mind homemaking spouses, particularly those who are primary caregivers of minor or disabled children, as the expense of hiring caregivers, cleaning services, and food preparation might be a lot higher than the income of a spouse working outside the home.

Estate planning can be extremely confusing for a lot of people. In last week’s blog post, I addressed 5 common estate planning myths that often cost individuals and their loved ones time and money and add extra stress to their lives. Here are 5 more common estate planning myths:

  1. If I have a will, I don’t have to worry about probate. Although a will gives the court guidance on your wishes, having a will doesn’t make it so that you can avoid probate. Probate can be a long and expensive process in which one or more courts decide who will inherit your assets, so wanting to avoid it if possible is certainly understandable. It is important to note, also, that if you have real estate in multiple states, each of your properties may have to go through probate in its respective state.
  2. To avoid probate, you have to draft a trust. If you plan to draft a trust, this is definitely one area for which you may want to hire an attorney. Although avoiding probate is one of the most common reasons for people to want to draft a trust, there may be other methods that are easier and/or less expensive that will still meet your needs.
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