Is estate planning still needed?

Last year Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 which pretty much killed the aptly named death tax. It didn’t actually kill it just exempted those who leave less than $11 million to their heirs.

Since the idea of no leaving a federal tax burden to their heirs, many people are questioning the need for estate planning since one of the main reasons to estate plan is to lessen the tax burden. But there is more to estate planning than tax issues. has a very useful piece by Tracy Craig. Craig is a Fellow at the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel.  She has some useful info on estate planning beyond taxes.

To read more click on the links below:

State Estate and Inheritance Taxes Exist for Many

Probate Can be Costly

Many Beneficiaries Have Issues

Blended Families are Common and Can Be Complicated


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Sudden death and family finances

A recent piece on the CNBC website addresses an important issue that many people tend to not think about: the impact of a sudden death on family finances. Writer Carmen Reinicke uses the celebrity suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain as her jumping off point to discuss what attorneys, financial advisors and therapists say what you should do if you are faced with a sudden death in the family.

To read the details see Sudden deaths like those of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain can devastate family finances

Here is what they recommend:

Get organized and find an expert

Address your mental as well as your financial health

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Including collectibles in you estate plan

What are collectibles?

According to the IRS, collectibles includes works of art, rugs, antiques, any metal or gem (with exceptions), any stamp or coin (with exceptions), valuable alcoholic beverages or “any other tangible personal property that the IRS determines is a “collectible” under IRC Section 408(m)”.

Quite often people don’t have any idea how much their collections are worth which is why when you are doing your estate planning it is in your and your heirs interests to find out. If you plan on bequeathing your collectibles, it is a necessity.

If you own any antiques or other collectibles you should decide how you want to distribute them after you die. You can either donate them to charity or leave them to heirs. The problem is collectibles fall into special laws separate from other assets. That is why you need to appoint someone who knows the value of your collectibles. Experts say you should contact at least two dealers or auction houses that deal in your type(s) of collectibles. They will come in handy for whoever settles your estate. They will know how much your collection is worth which can prevent any fighting among heirs, each of whom may have a different idea of their worth.

By having this information it will also prevent a clueless heir from selling any objects for less than their fair market value.  It is good to remember that even if your heirs decide to keep the assets rather than sell them, they will still need to know the value of your “objects” to establish the total value of your estate.

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What happens to your pets when you die?

Over 80 million people in the U.S. have at least one pet. That’s 65% of all households. Cats are more popular than dogs, but that’s still a ton of pets. There is a very good chance that they are treated as family members. Unfortunately, many people don’t include their furry loved ones in their estate planning.

A good way to plan for your pets is to create a living revocable trust. That way you can leave instructions and money so your trustee can provide for your pet. In that tust you can also assign someone to take care of your pet, but you should make sure they are willing to take on the task.

If you don’t create a living trust, you can always leave what they call a letter of instruction to your loved ones. While the letter is not legally binding it does spell out your wishes as to the care of your beloved pet.

Another option is if you move into an assisted living facility. You can find one that allows pets.

It is a good thing to remember that although your pet might be like family to you, legally they are just property. That is why it behooves you to include your pets in your estate planning just as you would your humans.

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Ultra rich and Dynasty trusts

The new tax law doubles the amount that can be passed to heirs without them having to worry about estate and gift taxes. The amount works out to about $22 million for a married couple, but is only in place until 2025. Due to this, the uber-rich are turning to what are called dynasty trusts, which secures inheritances of their grandchildren, great-grandchildren and beyond.

 Joan Antoniello, of Mazurs USA Wealth Advisors told Bloomberg News, ““For the mega wealthy, it’s really a window of opportunity that’s limited.”
Dynasty trusts let the richest Americans protect and preserve wealth for generations, while minimizing tax bills. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appears to have used one prior to assuming his government role. They can be funded tax-free with assets up to the exemption limit, which was $10.98 million in 2017 for couples, even though complex tax-planning techniques can get around that threshold.

Blloomberg reports that about a dozen of the nation’s top wealth planners say they’re seeing “increased interest in the trusts as clients look to capitalize on the additional $11 million they can now easily shift over. Some families want to transfer money out of their estates into the trusts in case Democrats take back control of Congress and pull the limits back down before 2025, while others say it’s best to move assets before they appreciate even more.”

Estimates are the new rules affect fewer than 2,000 families per year, but billions of dollars are at stake. A University of California, Berkeley study found that 0.1% of families control a growing share of U.S. wealth, from an estimated 7 percent in 1978 to 22 percent in 2012. The net worth of the wealthy has zoomed even higher in recent years as values of stocks, real estate and private businesses have climbed.

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