Certainties of life: Death, taxes and procrastination
By Bruce E. Brinkman
Procrastination occasionally has its benefits and someday I am going to list them, but when it comes to estate planning, delay can be costly.
The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 put in place higher “permanent” estate tax exclusion limits, but those with estates valued at less than those limits, $5,250,000 per person ($10,500,000 for couples), may be tempted to put off critical planning.
I hear this thinking when clients with lesser estate values ask me if the new law eliminates the need for trusts, a tool often used by higher net worth taxpayers. In fact, the protection a properly drawn trust provides its owners goes beyond the reduction of a potential estate tax.
There are many different types of trusts available depending upon the goals and needs of the family. The most common trust, the revocable living trust, offers several benefits regardless of estate value. Privacy is one. Assets not held in trust must go through the probate process. This not only takes time and money, but means your personal property is listed publicly for the whole world to see.
Another significant advantage is the control that the trust gives you over who receives your assets and when they are distributed. This is especially important if minor children or those with a disability are the beneficiaries of your wealth. The trust document can be very specific as to when and how the assets are passed on to your heirs.
The living trust also acts as a safeguard during your lifetime should you become incapacitated. By proactively appointing someone you know and trust as a successor trustee, you can be more confident that he or she will manage your property according to your wishes.
However, creation of the revocable living trust is only the beginning. Equally important is the next step in the process: The property or assets intended for the trust must be retitled in the name of the trust. Putting off this task is like preparing your fields for planting, but never getting around to actually putting seed in the ground: fruitless and costly. A good estate attorney can assist you but the responsibility is yours to make sure that the paperwork funding the trust is signed and recorded properly.
As all master craftsmen advise, you’ll want to “measure twice, cut once.” Poor estate design can lead to unforeseen loss of control or squandered wealth. It pays to consult with your team of advisors to be sure your plan is integrated with all areas of your financial life.
For the disciplined among us, the best time to begin estate planning was yesterday. And for us procrastinating types, it’s today.
Bruce Brinkman is a Certified Financial Planner with Allen, Gibbs & Houlik, L.C. of Wichita. He can be reached at 316-291-4191 or firstname.lastname@example.org.