Many who decide to take the leap of setting up an estate plan approach the issue by seeking the least expensive, yet still effective strategy. This is especially true during a recession. While this may be appropriate for some, let’s examine some situations where your will may not end up being so simple:
- Split Families — If you have been divorced and/or have children from a prior marriage, steps need to be taken to assure that the correct relatives receive the correct property. Is your ex still listed as the beneficiary of your retirement plan? If you are remarried with kids from your first marriage, who will gain custody upon your death? Are you in a non-traditional family?
- Elderly Relatives – Do you provide financial care or otherwise for parents or grandparents? Do you want to designate assets in your will to continue this care?
- Children with Differing Needs — The usual course that parents choose is to split assets equally amongst their children. However, this is not always the best solution. Have you already paid for one child’s education while the others are still school-aged? Do you fear that one of your children will squander his or her share? Do you want to disinherit any family members? Do you have hesitations about your child’s spouse?
- Foreign Spouse — Is your spouse a United States citizen?
- Business Ownership – What do you want to happen to your business in case of your sudden demise? Do you want your family to own your portion of the business or should it pass directly to a partner or associate? Are you insured for such an event?
- Assets in Another State — Without proper planning, if you own real property in another state, it ordinarily will have to go through probate proceedings in that state, resulting in additional administrative and legal costs that reduce the value of your estate for your heirs.
- Charity – Do you want to give part of your estate to charity? Do you want to give all of your estate to charity? Does your spouse approve of such a plan?
- Pets – Many people love their pets, but are silent in their will regarding what happens to them at your death. Do you want a specific person to care for them? Do you want to leave assets to reduce the burden for their care?
- Estate Tax – As of this date, the federal estate tax has expired, but is set to be reinstated at 2001 rates beginning in 2011. If Congress fails to agree on a new tax schedule, the first $1 million of your estate will be exempt from tax, with up to a 55% tax on further assets. If you have a working farm, would your assets provide enough liquidity to pay this tax? If your net worth approaches this amount, estate tax planning can help you preserve many thousands of dollars for your heirs.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list. While we are all looking for quality and savings these days, be sure to think carefully about such issues before moving forward with your planning.