By Mike Collopy, CFP®, CIMA®
Estate planning is essential for anyone with assets. This includes checking and savings accounts, real estate property, retirement accounts, and even that boat you haven’t used in months. I believe most people need to do at least basic estate planning, but it’s especially critical for individuals and couples past the age of 40.
If you have started or tried to start the process of creating an estate plan, you know how complicated and time-consuming it can be. Once you reach your 40s, you become bombarded with countless duties and obligations, one of which is to provide for and protect your family. It’s hard enough to be a good spouse and parent on a day-to-day basis, but how can you continue that legacy if you suddenly pass? Having an estate plan will make sure that you can smoothly pass on your assets and money to your family.
Because estate planning can feel overwhelming, we’ve created a checklist with 3 different levels of importance—from must-haves to more advanced estate planning tools. Most of these tasks are relatively simple to start with, and they are some of the most important steps you can take to protect your loved ones.
1. The Must-Haves
No estate plan is complete without having the following documents and reviewing them periodically. They help plan for and document the transfer of assets with minimized tax and transfer cost.
- A will appoints guardians for your children and spells out specifically how you want your property split.
- A living trust avoids probate, allows for privacy, and designates how assets are to be divided upon your death.
- A healthcare power of attorney allows you to designate a healthcare agent to make healthcare decisions in the event you are unable to make decisions for yourself.
- A financial / property power of attorney allows you to designate an agent to make financial decisions in the event you are unable to make decisions for yourself.
- Joint accounts transfer to a designated person upon death, so it’s important to review co-ownership provisions and the titling of accounts.
- Some assets (such as IRAs, life insurance, and annuities) pass to your designated beneficiaries. It is necessary to periodically review beneficiary designations and coordinate with the overall estate plan.
Tip: Keep this checklist on hand to review after any major life event like marriage, divorce, death, birth, etc.
After you have covered your bases to ensure a smoother transition of your assets after you pass, there are some more steps to consider. These considerations will enhance the direction of assets and help further minimize estate taxes.
- The Spousal Lifetime Access Trust (SLAT) has become a popular estate planning strategy to take advantage of current lifetime gift tax exemptions ($11.7 million each).
- A Grantor Retained Annuity Trust (GRAT) seeks to pass assets to beneficiaries free of estate and gift tax that have appreciated over the IRS Section 7520 interest rate.
- Use donations to lower taxes by exploring charitable trust, donor-advised fund, and foundation options.
- Life insurance should cover debts your spouse will still be responsible for if you pass away (most notably, a mortgage). Your life insurance should also cover your estate closing costs and any end-of-life medical or funeral expenses to ease your family’s burden. An experienced life insurance professional can help you determine the coverage you need. Since life insurance is not necessarily estate tax-free, consider establishing an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT).
- A Qualified Personal Residence Trust (QPRT) allows you to remove a personal home from your state in order to reduce the amount of gift tax incurred when it transfers to your beneficiary.
- Intra-family loans can provide family members lower borrowing rates than traditional financing options.
- Special needs trusts ensure the proper passing of assets to ensure beneficiaries with special needs are not disqualified from entitled benefits.
3. Advanced Estate Planning
For those who have more complex estate tax issues or liability concerns may have to take a step further to ensure they are passing on as much of their assets as possible. For these special cases, you may need to consider the following:
- Domestic and offshore asset protection. Trusts offer those in high-liability fields of work and those with high estate tax brackets options to reduce liability.
- Self-canceling notes allow the exchange of property for periodic payments based upon mortality.
- Family limited partnerships and family LLCs provide legal, financial, and tax structure to family businesses.
Partner With a Trusted Professional
As mentioned before, estate planning is a complex process. In addition to working with an estate planning attorney, you should also partner with a comprehensive financial advisor who is familiar with your assets, your life insurance contracts, and your estate wishes to ensure a smooth transition process in the event of your death.
Because estate planning isn’t a one-time task, a trusted financial advisor can help you update your estate at least annually to take into account changing life and financial circumstances. If you’re ready to partner with a financial advisor who can help you create an estate plan with confidence, we at Veracity Capital are here to help. Schedule a complimentary introductory call by reaching out to me at 305.723.9949 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mike Collopy is wealth advisor and partner at Veracity Capital. As a fiduciary who puts his clients’ interests first, always, Mike is known for providing a holistic perspective on his clients’ finances. His comprehensive process first looks at the big picture of each client’s family, health, and wealth, then drills down to provide solutions for their financial needs, concerns, and goals. He’s passionate about the science of financial planning and investing and uses that to help his clients build a strong foundation for their financial life. Mike serves career-driven individuals who need professional advice to manage their wealth and maximize their opportunities, such as corporate benefits and complicated compensation packages. He considers his clients to be like family, and strives to support them and their families as they work hard for their financial future.
Mike has a bachelor’s degree in finance from Coastal Carolina University and an MBA from The College of Saint Rose. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner and is a Certified Investment Management Analyst ®. When he’s not working, you can find Mike spending time with his wife and young son, often exploring the great outdoors by hiking or enjoying the beach. He likes to stay active, playing basketball and training for half marathons. Mike gives back to the community by supporting organizations dedicated to finding treatments for cystic fibrosis. To learn more about Mike, connect with him on LinkedIn.