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Estate Planning

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Many people wrongly assume that they don't need estate planning—they believe it's only for the very wealthy. But the fact is that when you die, the government calculates the value of everything you own, including:

  • Your home and other real estate you own
  • The face amount of any personal or group life insurance policies in your name
  • Savings, investments, retirement plan assets or Social Security benefits
  • The value of any personal property such as cash, furniture, jewelry and automobiles
  • Your share of a business

Did you know that without a good estate plan:

  • State law will determine who inherits your assets
  • The court appoints administrators for your estate
  • You may pay unnecessary taxes and expenses
  • The court appoints a guardian for your children
  • Your family could be forced to sell your assets to pay your estate taxes

You need an estate plan if you:

  • Have assets exceeding the amount exempt from federal estate tax ($5,000,000 - 2011)
  • Own your own business
  • Have minor children or who have been married more than once and are still responsible for children from a prior marriage
  • Have dependents who are handicapped, elderly, or who have special or long-term needs
  • Want to donate assets to a favorite charity, institution or other non-profit organization

The good news is that with a sound estate plan, you can help:

  • Ensure financial security for you and your family during your lifetime and after your death
  • Pass on your estate—wholly intact—to your heirs and according to your wishes
  • Reduce or eliminate taxes, administrative expenses and delays in the transfer of your estate
  • Have the liquidity to cover your taxes, debts and expenses

There are Common Ways to Transfer Your Estate

The most common methods to preserve and transfer your estate to your heirs are Wills, Trusts and Charitable Gifts.

  • Wills

    A Will is a legal declaration of how you want your assets to be distributed when you die. A Will is the basic foundation of any estate plan. Under a will, you can:

    • Specify who is to receive your assets
    • Designate who will be legal guardian for your children
    • Appoint the person who will manage and administer your estate
    • Direct assets into trusts or other accounts for the purpose of reducing taxes
    • Postpone the transfer of assets to beneficiaries to a later date
    • Provide for charities, schools or other selected organizations

    Wills do have limitations that you should consider:

    • Ownership issues could supersede your Will
    • Your Will could be contested in court
    • Your Will doesn't become effective until your death, when family circumstances might have changed
    • If you wait too long to create a Will, you could be deemed mentally unstable to do so and lose the ability to pass your estate on according to your wishes
  • Trusts

    Trusts allow you to "custom-tailor" the transfer of property to your beneficiaries according to your specific wishes. A Trust can also help you accomplish other financial goals, such as reducing taxes. There are many kinds of Trusts, including:

    • Reducing estate tax liability
    • Sheltering assets from creditors
    • Increasing privacy in transferring assets
    • Providing income to a spouse, children or individual with special needs
    • Supporting a favorite charity

    Please note: A trust is a legal arrangement that: requires relinquishing control over the trust assets; must be properly administered; may not be subject to changes in the future and has other significant risks.  Before implementing any plans you should consult with your personal legal, tax, and financial advisors for advice based on your specific circumstances and objectives.

  • Charitable Gifting

    Charitable gifting allows you to distribute a portion of your assets to select charitable organizations, thus reducing your taxes. There are numerous ways to gift assets, both during your lifetime and after your death. They provide the added bonus of:

    • Reducing estate tax liability
    • Sheltering assets from creditors
    • Increasing privacy in transferring assets
    • Providing income to a spouse, children or individual with special needs
    • Supporting a favorite charity

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