Why should you make your estate plan now?
Creating an appropriate estate plan is one of the most important steps toward protecting your loved ones and yourself.
PROVIDING FOR MINOR CHILDREN
It is important for your estate plan to address the upbringing of minor children. While, in most circumstances, this will fall to the surviving spouse, a contingency plan must be in place in the event of deaths which are simultaneous, or near in time. In such circumstances, the plan should provide both for someone to manage your assets to provide for your children, as well as someone to act as guardian of the children. This may, but need not be the same person. Most parents agree that naming the guardian–the person who would raise their children in their absence–is perhaps the most important reason for creating an estate plan.
PROVIDING FOR INCAPACITY, MEDICAL & END OF LIFE CHOICES
A comprehensive estate plan also includes a power of attorney, by which you name an individual to handle your financial affairs in the event you become medically incapacitated. Moreover, by use of a detailed health care proxy, you designate a trusted individual to make treatment decisions for you in the event you are unable to do so for yourself due to medical incapacity. Contrary to popular belief, your spouse or children cannot automatically take over for you when you become unable. These planning documents avoid the cost and delay of petitioning the court to appoint someone to act for you.
When you leave your estate to your loved ones using a will, it must pass through probate court. Although the process is somewhat improved, some delay is always involved and this can complicate things when money is needed to pay the ongoing living expenses of your family during an already stressful time. With proper planning, at least some assets can be passed on to your loved ones without undergoing probate, quickly, inexpensively, and privately.
PLANNING FOR ESTATE TAXES
For 2014, the Federal Estate Tax exemption is $5.34 million, so with proper planning, a married couple can effectively make use of double the exemption, or $10.68 million. In Massachusetts, however, the filing of an estate tax return is triggered on an estate valued at $1 million or more–the exemption (subject to decrease due to lifetime gifting) is thus, $1 million. As life insurance proceeds and home equity values are included in the estate valuation, the use of marital deduction trusts and by-pass trusts become all the more important in adopting an estate plan with the objective of reducing estate taxes and maintaining assets for the use of your loved ones instead of the state or federal government.
Your custom estate plan is the place to provide benefits for your favorite charitable organizations or causes, either during your lifetime or upon death. Depending upon how complex, it may also serve the additional purpose of reducing capital gains or estate tax liability.