What’s at stake?
At its foundation, estate planning is about protecting your family, yourself, and the assets you’ve worked so hard to acquire. A basic estate plan enables you to:
- Manage and preserve assets while you're alive;
- Transfer assets to your intended beneficiaries in a smart and tax efficient manner—either before or after you die;
- Name guardians for your minor children; and
- Protect your loved ones and their inheritances long into the future.
Questions you’re asking or should be asking
What exactly do I need?
At a minimum, a basic estate plan requires:
Last Will and TestamentYour Will details how you want your assets to be distributed and names an executor to carry out your wishes. If you have children under the age of 18, it names a guardian to care for them, should you and/or your partner be unable to do so.
Durable Power of AttorneyDesignates those individuals who will have the authority to make financial decisions or transact any business on your behalf if you are unable to do so due to illness or incapacity.
Health Care DirectivesConsist of:
Health Care Proxy—authorizes another person to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to communicate your wishes.
Living Will—clearly sets forth your wishes about life support, artificial nutrition and hydration, and/or the use of medication to ensure that you are free of pain.
Usually, there also will be a form authorizing your chosen designee(s) to have access to your medical records and to communicate with medical professionals about your care.
Revocable Living Trust (RLT)Increasingly, families are adding an RLT as part of their basic estate plans. The purpose is to provide a way for you or someone you trust to administer your assets—without Court involvement—if you become disabled or die.
The chief advantages of setting up an RLT are:
- It takes effect during your lifetime. Therefore, you can continue to manage your assets;
- You can make changes to or revoke the Trust at any time;
- The Trust specifies who will take care of your assets should you become unable to make decisions about your finances;
- It takes the place of a Will, since it lets you determine who gets your assets after you pass away;
- Without the need to go through probate, your estate can be administered by your family in private, without any Court involvement;
- With proper tax saving provisions, it can help reduce the burden of estate taxes;
- It can simplify the administration of your assets—especially out-of-state property; and
- While a Will going through probate may invite contest by a disgruntled family member, a Revocable Living Trust is much less likely to be challenged.
What is probate and should I plan
to avoid it?
The purpose of probate is for the Court to determine that the will is valid and to ensure that the instructions it contains will be carried out.
During the probate process:
- Creditors receive notice of your passing, and your estate pays any debts that you owe; and
- Title is transferred from the original owner to the beneficiaries named in the Will.
A well-thought-out estate plan can help your family avoid probate or minimize many of its related costs, including time (probate can take months), anxiety, court fees and legal expenses.
Here are other questions you may be asking:
How do I choose the right executor for my Will or guardian for my children?
How do I protect the inheritance I leave to my children from poor spending habits, divorce or creditors?
Does my Will have any effect on my joint bank accounts, 401(k) or life insurance?
Will my estate be subject to Federal or State (NY/NJ) estate taxes?
What’s the best way to plan for children from prior marriages, or a child from whom I am estranged?
Common Estate Planning Mistakes
- Lack of a game plan
- Improper use of jointly-held property
- Improper arrangement of life insurance
- Lack of liquidity to pay for estate costs or taxes
- Simple Wills prepared from a form packet or book
- Disposition of assets at the wrong time or in the wrong manner
- Failure to properly value and structure your business interests
- Lack of adequate record keeping
- Improper beneficiary designations
- Procrastination in planning
We can help you avoid all of these mistakes.
Beyond the Basics
Depending on the size of your estate, both the federal government and various states (New York and New Jersey among them) may impose estate taxes on your assets upon your death. The good news is that over the past few years, the amounts exempted from federal—and often, state—estate taxes have increased. That means fewer families are affected by these so-called death taxes.
However, despite changes in the laws, some individuals are surprised to find out that the combined values of their home, retirement plans, life insurance, and other assets still put their families at risk for having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in unexpected estate taxes.
Thanks to our extensive training and experience in both law and financial planning, estate tax minimization and family wealth transfer planning are among our core competencies. We’ve helped hundreds of clients transfer wealth advantageously and reduce or even eliminate taxes on their estates.
The best way to accomplish those goals is to start the planning process early.
There are a number of tax-saving wealth transfer techniques that we routinely implement for our clients, including:
- Credit Shelter Trusts;
- Marital Trusts (QTIP);
- Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts (ILIT);
- Grantor Trust (IDGT) planning;
- Gifting Programs;
- Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT);
- Qualified Personal Residence Trusts (QPRT);
- Family Limited Partnership or Family Limited Liability Company (FLP or FLLC);
- Dynasty Trusts; and
- Charitable trusts (CRT and CLT).
We will happily guide you through the options so you have a clear understanding of the best strategies for your particular circumstances.
Your life insurance and long-term care insurance coverage will have profound effects on your family’s financial security. We consider them to be vital pieces of your overall estate plan. For those reasons, we go an extra step by:
- Reviewing your current coverage to ensure it is up-to-date and complete;
- Advising you on what features you should look for in each type of policy; and
- Helping you assess whether any new policy you are considering is high quality, appropriate for your situation, and not overpriced.
[Note: We do not sell insurance and never share in commissions or fees. Our advice is completely objective.]
Ultimately, any decision you make about insurance needs to be executed by a licensed insurance agent. If you do not have a trusted insurance agent to assist you with your old policies or to help you obtain new ones, we'll be glad to refer you to highly experienced professionals whom we trust.
Improper beneficiary designations on your retirement plans and insurance policies can cause significant tax issues or wreck a carefully constructed estate plan. Even common designation choices (e.g. “spouse then children”) may trigger unexpected difficulties.
In addition, family changes (e.g. birth, death, marriage, estrangement, divorce, etc.) should prompt a review and possible update of these designations.
We will work with you to make sure all of your designations reflect your wishes and are fully coordinated with your Will, trusts and other estate planning strategies.