Top 10 Estate Planning Myths and Mistakes
April 9, 2015
Recently, Clive Grimbleby, Partner and CPA, and Vince Jamison, attorney at Ross W. Lee, presented "The 10 Myths of Estate Planning" during a breakout season of United Capital Modesto's event titled "This Economy and You," which featured presentations and breakout sessions providing practical advice on real estate, personal finance, health care, preparing for retirement and estate planning. The event took place at the Gallo Center for the Arts on February 25, 2014.
An estate plan is not necessary unless I’m old or rich. You’re never too old to start planning, and by no means must you rival Warren Buffett! At all income levels, making arrangements early in life ensures that not only will your financial goals be met, but your family will avoid unnecessary stress and uncertainty in what will unquestionably be a difficult time.
If I have a will, my family will avoid probate following my death. A will tells the world how to distribute your assets post death; however, it won’t save your family the time and expense of probate*. To do that, you must set up a trust. Trusts are legal devices which allow you to put conditions on how and when your assets will be distributed, thereby negating the need for court-supervised inventory and division of your estate.
If I have a trust, my family will avoid estate taxes following my death. Nothing in life is certain but death and taxes, and this remains true for estate taxes. Having a trust will not eliminate them, but a properly drafted trust, knowledgeable legal and tax advisors, and creative gifting can help reduce the estate tax burden. Additionally, having a trust will help avoid the additional expense of probate fees.
I can gift property to my children during my lifetime without worrying about taxes. Dead or alive, taxes are always something to bear in mind when gifting. While it is true that you can gift tax free, the exclusion amount caps off at $14,000 per individual for tax year 2014. If you’re trying to whittle down your estate, this can be problematic, but there are creative ways to go about gift distribution that will keep you out of the tax zone. For example, a husband can give his son $14,000 tax free and his wife can do the same, adding up to a grand total of $28,000 for that particular child. For help with your gifting plans and avoiding unnecessary taxes, we recommend talking to your attorney or accountant.
A trust will make everything more complicated for my family. On the contrary, a trust will make everything much easier! Not only will having a trust negate the need for probate, it will also minimize the bickering and disagreements that often arise when splitting an estate. You’ll save your family time, money and possibly preserve their relationship. Trusts offer increased asset protection against creditors and lawsuits, too.
I have to leave assets to my children outright regardless of their maturity level and my concerns. So little Johnny is 20 years old, has totaled 3 vehicles in 4 years, and can’t hold down a job for more than six months, and you have a nagging suspicion that $500,000 will not be well managed in his possession (we can’t imagine why!) A trust might be your, and his, best ally. Through the trust, funds can be disbursed when certain stipulations are met (such as Johnny reaches 30 years of age), and they can be distributed in a lump sum or slowly over the course of many years. This type of plan can also be useful in the case of special needs children whom you want well cared for in your absence.
There’s no need to coordinate my life insurance and investments with my estate plan. Life insurance can be a powerful tool used not only to support surviving spouses and heirs, but to cover the taxes and fees associated with your death. Although insurance proceeds are almost always income tax free, estates over the applicable exclusion amount of $5.34 million may have their death benefits taxed as part of the estate. Means exist to keep your life insurance both income tax and estate tax free; a knowledgeable tax or legal expert can guide you.
I formed a trust but have no idea if it’s funded or not. Chances are if you’re not certain, it’s probably not. To “fund”, all of your possessions must be titled in the name of your trust. An unfunded trust will not be of benefit to your trustee, as they can only control assets in the trust’s name. This means your assets will go through probate following your death and assets could end up in the hands of unintended individuals. Full and continuous funding of your living trust is essential.
I haven’t reviewed or update my estate plan in years! There’s no hard-and-fast rule about when you should review your estate plan, but due to economic and tax code changes, a quick review should occur annually, and a thorough review should be conducted every five years. An additional review should occur after every major life event (i.e. marriage, divorce, addition of a dependent, family death, retirement, change in relationship with trustee, etc.) Doing so will give you peace of mind and ensure that all of your goals are being met.
I have a CPA that I talk to during tax season, but I don’t feel the need to establish a tax and legal team. Not only should you establish a team to help with your estate planning, you should establish a team capable of communicating and working together to develop a plan best suited to your needs. To get started, contact a member of our Estate Planning Team at (209) 527-4220 or email@example.com.
*Probate is a legal process that takes place after death to establish the validity of a will. It includes identifying and inventorying the deceased person’s property, having the property appraised, paying debts and taxes, and distribution of any remaining property as the will (or, in the absence of a will, state law) directs.