A well-designed estate plan can help provide your family financial security – and give you peace of mind right now. The goal of estate planning is to help you accumulate, manage and conserve capital and income – taking into account your resources, goals and tax considerations – and preserve those assets for your heirs. It can also help you manage property in an efficient, profitable way during your lifetime. Every case is unique, but some of the key estate-planning challenges include the following.
Estate taxes can be a major concern for those with significant net worth. Without an effective plan in place, estate taxes can force heirs to sell real estate and other assets to raise cash to pay the taxes. However, planning can help reduce estate taxes by making lifetime transfers to heirs and providing a source of money to pay taxes, such as a life insurance trust.
Expect the Unexpected
To understand the value of working with a professional, you only have to take a look at recent changes to the estate tax code. The federal estate tax was officially repealed as of January 1, 2010, but is slated to return in 2011 with an even lower exemption amount and a higher tax rate. During 2010, beneficiaries could still be exposed to capital-gains liability because of a limitation to something known as the “‘step-up in basis’ for estate assets.” And additional changes to the estate tax structure are also possible before the tax returns in 2011. If you’re confused, you’re not alone.
For many business owners, their single biggest asset is the business itself, and they often plan to pass that business on to children or others who are actively involved in it. This can leave other children or heirs splitting a smaller part of the estate – which might be further reduced by estate taxes. If providing equal inheritances to your heirs is a goal, one possible solution is life insurance, used either to pay the estate taxes or to equalize the values going to children who are not involved in the business.
Gifts made during your lifetime can allow you to transfer assets that will significantly appreciate, and would drive up estate taxes if still in your name when you die. In order to reduce the size of the taxable estate, you can transfer assets each year up to the level of the annual gift-tax exclusion. Another option could be a charitable remainder trust, which can allow you to direct income from certain appreciated properties to a designated charity, with possible tax advantages.
There are a number of more complex solutions that may be appropriate depending on your specific situation and goals. These include Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts, Qualified Personal Residence Trusts, private annuities, and installment sales.
Estate tax issues are not impossible to solve. But to ensure you end up with the solution that addresses your situation most effectively, it makes sense to consult a trusted financial professional and your legal advisor.