The new tax legislation raises the federal estate tax exemption to $11.2 million for individuals and $22.4 million for couples. The increase means that an exceedingly small number of estates (only about 1,800, nationally) will have to worry about federal estate taxes in 2018, according to estimates from the nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation.
So, you may be wondering, is estate planning even still necessary?
To put it simply: Yes!
Comprehensive estate planning does a lot more than guard against you owing federal estate taxes. Other than taxes, you and your family likely face a range of estate planning challenges, such as:
- Distribution of your assets. Create your legacy with the help of tools like a trust and/or a last will and testament.
- If you die without a will, state intestacy laws determine where your stuff goes. You lose control, and the people closest to you may feel hurt or may suffer financially.
- If your estate plans do not include asset protection strategies, your lifetime of hard work and savings could be squandered needlessly.
- Without an estate plan, your family may not be aware of all of the assets that you own. Your hard earned money may end up with the California Department of Unclaimed Property, which is estimated to reach over $9 Billion in unclaimed property by mid-2018.
- Cognitive impairment. Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other disorders could make handling your own affairs impossible or at least ill-advised. Executing a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA), for instance, allows you to choose a person, referred to as an agent or attorney-in-fact, to step in and manage your financial affairs on your behalf. Without this important document, your fate will be left to the public whims of the court in a proceeding called a Conservatorship (aka Living Probate). If a family member hasn’t stepped in to Petition for Conservatorship, the court could appoint someone else—for instance, a public conservator.
- Medical emergencies. What if you become unable to communicate your preferences regarding medical care yourself? Naming someone as your health care power of attorney under a medical Power of Attorney allows him or her to act as your voice for medical decisions. In addition, a Living Will and Advance Health Care Directives allows you to specify the types of life-sustaining treatment you do or do not want to receive.
- Specific family situations. Life is unpredictable. You need to consider (and proactively deal with) challenges like the following:
- If you have minor children, you can name a guardian for them and provide for their care through your estate plan. Without a named guardian, the decision of who raises your children will be left to a Judge. The Judge will not know your family dynamics and who would be best to raise your children in the manner in which you intended. Even worse, your children may even end up with the Department of Child Protective Services while the courts sort your affairs out.
- If you care for a dependent with a debilitating condition, provide for her and protect her government benefits using tools like the Special Needs Trust (SNT).
- If you’re married with children from a previous relationship, you need clear, properly prepared documents to ensure that your current spouse and children inherit according to your wishes.
- Probate is the court-supervised process of the distribution of a deceased person’s assets. A veritable avalanche of paperwork, expense and stress awaits your loved ones during probate. But it doesn’t have to happen to your family! Through proper planning, you can keep all of your assets outside of probate to be distributed according to your wishes in a private Trust administration.
Estate Planning Involves Much More Than Minimizing Estate Taxes
Even prior to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, relatively few Americans needed to worry about the estate tax. However, virtually everyone faces one or more of the issues outlined above. Shockingly, a 2016 Gallup poll found that 56% of Americans do not even have a simple will. A 2017 poll conducted by Caring.com found similarly alarming news—a majority of U.S. adults (especially Gen-Xers and Millennials) do not have their estate plans in order.
We can help you get prepared for the future. Please contact me to begin your plan and get the peace of mind you need.
This article is a service of Tara Cheever, Personal Family Lawyer®. I don’t just draft documents; I ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why I offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling my office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.