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Keep it All in the Family For Estate Plan Success

Not only does creating an estate plan force you to confront your own mortality, but it also forces you to decide who gets your assets, whether all heirs should be treated equally and who will play the key roles in settling your estate.

If estate planning were just about some basic math tasks, people would not put off going to their estate planning attorneys every few years to make sure their estate plan is in order. However,, as accurately described in the article “Estate Planning: A Family Affair” from Kiplinger, this is a highly emotional process.

If it helps to get you to move on this, consider that if you don’t have a will, the decisions about what will happen to your property–and if you are a parent of minor children, what will happen to your kids—will be decided by the laws of your state and the courts. That should be enough to get you to overcome the fear of mortality, that often keeps people from moving their estate planning forward.

Don’t have a will yet? You need to do that right away. If you have an estate plan, but haven’t reviewed it in a while, and your life has become more complex, it’s time for a review. By the way, just because you review your plan, does not necessitate an overhaul. However, laws and lives do change and the same goals your will and estate plan addressed four years or 14 years ago, may not be the same as they are now.

Every five or six years or whenever there is a major change in your life, such as a divorce, inheritance, financial loss, birth or a change in estate laws, it’s time for a review. Reviews should take place more often, when you are in your 50s or 60s. At that time, your assets may have grown, your children may have children of their own and your goals may have changed.

Your focus may have switched from protecting your children in the event of a premature death of a parent, to transferring wealth from one generation to the next.

The large changes to the tax law may mean that you no longer need some of the tax planning strategies you put into place prior to 2017. Several states have made major changes to their own estate tax laws. New Jersey eliminated its estate tax in 2018 and New York boosted its state estate tax exemption to $5.25 million that same year. Delaware eliminated its estate tax at the end of 2017.

One couple looked at their estate plans from almost 20 years ago, before two of their children were even born. They realized that the plan was out of date, their estate had become much larger, more complicated and they wanted to build in significant charitable giving.

The first task: updating their wills, health care proxies and advance directives for end-of-life care. They created a trust that will donate 11% of their estate to a charity that matters to them. Trusts were set up that will pay out a certain percentage to their children at ages 30, 35 and 40, rather than giving their kids lump sums. They set up a plan whereby a trustee has the discretionary ability to make payments for education, health care, emergencies and even a down payment on a house, which will be subtracted from the child’s future distribution.

An additional benefit: Because of their use of trusts, their distribution of assets will be private.

Trusts are considered the “work horses” of estate planning, because they can be used to accomplish so many different tasks within an estate. However, it is important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all trust. An estate planning attorney should review your situation and then will be able to recommend what trusts, if any, will be most useful for you and your family.

Don’t forget to have the talk. Sit down with your family members and tell them, to the extent you are comfortable, what you have decided. You don’t have to discuss numbers. However, your family will appreciate being part of the conversation, so they understand the reasoning behind your decisions. 

Make sure the information shared is keyed to your child(s) maturity. Some 18-year-olds are mature enough to understand the impact that an inheritance can have, while some 30-year-olds see a future inheritance as a license to slack off. You know your children best—make thoughtful decisions about how much to tell them and when.

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 1, 2018) “Estate Planning: A Family Affair,”

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