Common Estate Planning Goals
Estate planning is about you, the person who is alive and in control of property, and those who will eventually control and/or receive your property. It is about your wishes and what will happen in the future.
Having worked with clients to develop estate plans, there are some common basic goals that are considered. This includes providing for loved ones, mitigating or avoiding probate, minimizing taxes, providing for the orderly distribution and stewardship of assets, protecting assets, and planning for incapacity.
Providing for Loved Ones
We all have preferences. These preferences include thoughts as to who should or should not get our assets upon our death. Without advance planning, state law dictates who gets what and when. These one-size-fits all laws are not likely to line up with your preferences. This is particularly true where there are former spouses; children from another marriage, minor children, or estranged children; or larger families.
Planning can help ensure that your wishes are carried out. This can include making arrangements for spouses and children and ensuring that the assets are distributed in a way that sufficient to provide for their support. This can also include specific transfers. This may be as simple as ensuring that personal effects, such as a family bible or heirlooms, are transferred to those who will appreciate them. It may also include transferring real estate holdings or businesses to those who will be able to manage them.
Mitigating or Avoiding Probate
The probate process in Texas can be expensive. Even a simple probate can cost several thousand dollars. The process can also encourage property disputes between family members, which can destroy family relationships and result in sizeable legal bills.
Advance planning can help to minimize the impact of probate or avoid probate altogether. It can also help minimize the chance that one’s heirs and others get into disputes over property. This planning may include setting up different types of trusts, documenting and executing the legal documents so that property passes outside of probate, and including language in legal documents to discourage property disputes.
Despite tax reform efforts, we still live in a high-tax country. Absent planning, taxes can consume a major portion of your assets. The Federal estate tax is essentially 40% of the value of all assets owned at death. A few states still have death taxes that can add to this amount. Federal income taxes are nearly as high. The higher income tax states can come close to 10 percent. This does not even get to employment, sales, and excise taxes.
Advance planning can help eliminate or reduce these taxes. This can help preserve assets so they are available and can be distributed to the individuals loved ones, or if you wish to support specific charitable causes, to charities. There are a number of estate planning techniques that can accomplish this goal. These techniques range from creating family limited partnerships to take advantage of estate tax discounts, to holding life insurance policies in trust, to naming specific types of beneficiaries on your legal documents.
Providing for Orderly Administration & Stewardship of Property
Assets have a way of disappearing when someone dies. Other assets end up being mismanaged while everyone figures out who gets what. This can cause the value of your assets to diminish considerably. We often see this when a business owner dies. Without proper planning, the business often ends up having to close shortly after the owner’s death.
Planning can help avoid this. It can help ensure that property goes to those who you want it to go to and that property is managed appropriately during the probate process or transferred before probate closes. There are a number of techniques for this, including naming executors and trustees and leaving them specific instructions, deeds to transfer assets on death, and buy-sell agreements to transfer business interests.
You have worked hard to accumulate your assets. Lawsuits, divorces, and other events can significantly reduce the size of your estate. How assets are held and titled and who they are transferred to can leave the assets exposed to creditors and others. This can even include your heirs’ creditors.
Planning can help protect your assets and limit the liability exposure. This can include forming spendthrift trusts and foreign and domestic asset protection trusts and the use of business entities and structures to segregate assets from sources of liability exposure.
Providing for Incapacity
Mental health is something that most of us take for granted. We assume that we will always enjoy the full use of our mental faculties. But the research paints a different picture. The research shows that one in ten individuals over 65 are diagnosed with dementia. This number increases significantly with age.
Planning for incapacity is to structure one’s affairs so that resources and personal affairs resources in advance should the need arise. There are several estate planning techniques available for this. These techniques can help ensure that financial resources are available if and when the need arises. They can also ensure that the financial resources are not wasted and do not disqualify the individual for Medicare and other benefits.
These techniques can include leaving advance instructions. These instructions can name third parties to carry out our wishes should the individual not be capable of making their own decisions. These instructions can cover everything from how to manage money to what health care decisions to make.
Hiring an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney
As estate planning attorneys in Houston, we have worked on estates where planning was not done or the planning did not work as intended. This provides us with a unique perspective in preparing estate plans that help carry out the clients intended goals.