People devote a lifetime to accumulating assets and constructing an estate with the ultimate goal of bequeathing it to their heirs or charitable beneficiaries. However, without proper planning, the passing of an individual can impose significant hardships on the intended recipients of the estate.
The transfer of assets to heirs may involve various settlement costs, including probate fees and death taxes. In certain cases where the death taxes are substantial, assets may need to be liquidated to satisfy these obligations. Moreover, the actual transfer of assets can be hindered by lengthy probate proceedings, particularly if there are contested assets.
A well-crafted estate plan can alleviate many of these challenges encountered during estate settlement and enable you to achieve the following objectives:
A key objective of an estate plan is to ensure the orderly transfer of your assets based on your preferences. A qualified attorney can assist you in determining the most suitable estate planning arrangement for your needs.
A will is a legally binding document created in compliance with state laws that designates the beneficiaries of the estate. A will typically undergoes probate, wherein all assets are distributed under the court’s supervision. An executor, appointed in the will, is responsible for ensuring adherence to its provisions. In the absence of a will, the state assumes the role of executor, determining guardians and beneficiaries according to its laws.
A trust is a form of ownership established by the estate owner to receive and hold title to assets until their distribution to the heirs. A trustee is designated to manage the trust in accordance with its provisions. Various types of trusts exist, each tailored to serve specific purposes, such as avoiding probate, minimizing estate taxes, or managing estate assets.
Different methods of asset transfer are associated with distinct asset titling approaches. Joint tenancy, for instance, is a common form of asset title that enables automatic transfer, without the need for probate, to the joint owner named in the title.
Assets such as life insurance policies and qualified retirement plans are transferred by contract to named beneficiaries, bypassing probate.
Establish an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT) to hold your life insurance policies, allowing you to designate beneficiaries and appoint a manager. Premiums can be paid by you or the trust. Key benefits include excluding the insurance from your taxable estate, gifting to the trust annually tax-free, and ensuring that upon your passing, the payout goes directly to your chosen beneficiaries through the trustee.
A SLAT is a dynamic estate planning tool. As an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT), it facilitates tax-efficient wealth transfers while shielding assets and their appreciation from estate taxes. Alongside tax perks, this trust structure provides enhanced confidentiality, creditor protection, and precise control over beneficiary distributions. Unlike traditional ILITs, an ALAT offers greater control by allowing withdrawals if the need arises, addressing the limitations of a standard ILIT.
While a simple will may suffice in many cases to facilitate the desired transfer of assets and guardianship of children, larger estates or those comprising illiquid assets like real estate often necessitate the expertise of a qualified attorney to structure the most suitable planning arrangements. An estate planning attorney can also help prevent potential conflicts among heirs and recommend strategies to minimize estate taxes if the estate’s value is substantial.
Estate tax laws undergo periodic changes, as does an individual’s financial situation, rendering an outdated estate plan ineffective. To ensure the ongoing relevance and viability of your estate plan, it is crucial to engage a competent estate planning team, comprising an attorney, a trust administrator, a life insurance agent, and an investment advisor representative. This collective expertise will provide the necessary guidance to keep your estate plan current and operational.