A Guide to Estate Planning
Do you have an estate plan? A basic estate plan is an important financial document for everyone to have, whether you think you need one or not, and here's why.
Planning for the future is something that we should all be doing. But approximately 55% of American adults do not have a will or other estate plan in place. This number has stayed relatively even during the 2000s, even as the number of other estate planning documents Americans have -- like medical directives -- has increased. Among minorities, the numbers are higher than in the general population: 68% of African American adults and 74% of Hispanic adults do not have one.
With few exceptions, everyone has an estate -- even the young child with a bank account in his name that his grandparents set up, or the coming-of-age youngster who received a piece of jewelry as a birthday gift.
If you own something of value that you would like to pass on to someone else upon your death, you have an estate. Whether you like it or not, you should have an estate plan. The state has a plan if you don't get around to writing a will or designing a plan of your own.
An estate plan entails the accumulation, conservation and distribution of assets in an estate. A good plan will enhance and maintain the financial security of individuals and their families.
A will is a personal declaration of your intentions about the disposition of your property at death. Everybody should have one.
Because a will does not become legally enforceable until your death, it may be changed at any time before the maker's or testator's death or mental incompetency. A properly drafted will contains instructions for your personal representative, the executor. The executor is responsible for administering your estate.
A will offers many advantages, enabling you to control, to a large extent, what happens after you're gone.
With a will you can choose the executor, designate a guardian for minor children or others unable to fully care for themselves, distribute your property to beneficiaries you choose, be generous to charity at death, minimize estate tax, and have a sense of peace of mind, knowing that your assets will be distributed as you wish.
Trusts involve the transfer of your property to an individual or corporate trustee who manages the assets within the trust's control for the benefit of one or more -- the beneficiaries.
Gifts are gratuitous transfers you make during your lifetime. The annual gift tax exclusion is a silver lining that the gift tax rules allow. In 2016, you can annually make as many gifts of $14,000 to as many recipients as you can afford without those gifts even being a blip on the gift tax screen. These lifetime gratuitous transfers are completely gift tax free. The amount is periodically adjusted for inflation.
In addition, if in 2016 you "gift-split" with your spouse, $28,000 can pass to each child, grandchild, or any other person you choose. The recipients don't have to be related to you. Some people have referred to an annual exclusion gifting program as "the poor man's estate plan" because it effectively reduces the value of your estate without any interference from Uncle Sam.
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Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances.
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