Stress Test Your Estate Plan

So you’ve done the hard work of establishing an estate plan. Good on you, as they say across the Pond. However, you still have serious work to do to ensure that the strategy you’ve selected will maximize your peace of mind and protect your legacy.

Estate plans are living, breathing creations. Your life can and will change due to new births, children getting older and other shifts in the family; changes to your portfolio, career and business; and changes to your health, where you live and your core values. Likewise, external events, such as tax legislation passed in your state or the development of a novel financial instrument, can throw your plan off track or open the door to opportunities.

Obviously, you want to do due diligence without spending inordinate amounts of time noodling over your plan. Good enough should be good enough. To that end, ask yourself the following “stress test” questions to assess whether you need to meet with an estate planning attorney to update your approach:

1. When was the last time you updated your will or living trust? Since then, have you had new children or gotten divorced? Have you moved to a new state, opened or sold a business, or just changed your mind about the type of legacy you want to leave behind? Especially if big, tangible life events have occurred, strongly consider updating your documents as soon as possible against all else.

2. Who have you named as executor and trustee? If you had to start your planning over from scratch today, would you still make the same decisions? If not, why not?

3. Do you have adequate insurance? Many people do not have enough insurance for themselves or their businesses. They also fail to name contingent beneficiaries. Get your insurance policies in order.

4. How much of your property is jointly owned with someone other than your spouse? Jointly owned property has the potential to be double taxed. Take a look at your real property and seek advice on the proper adjustments to make in order to save on taxes when it’s really necessary to save on taxes.

5. How’s your record keeping? Nothing drives an executor crazy like sloppy record keeping.

6. When was the last time you gave your plan a thorough once-over? Even if nothing “huge” has happened in your life recently, if it’s been over five years since a qualified estate planning attorney has assessed your strategy, schedule a time to meet. Identify any issues, and iron out the kinks one at a time.

10 Types of Trusts: A Quick Look

Considering the myriad of trusts available, creating an estate plan that works can seem daunting. However, that’s what we, as estate planning attorneys, do every day. We know the laws and will design a plan which addresses your specific situation.

Here’s a look at the basics of ten common trusts to provide a general understanding. There will not be a quiz at the end. All you need to do when we meet is share your goals and insight into your family and financial situation, we’ll design a plan that incorporates the best documents for your situation.

1. Bypass Trusts. Commonly referred to as Credit Shelter Trust, Family Trust, or B Trust, Bypass Trusts do just that: bypass the surviving spouse’s estate to take advantage of tax exclusions and provide asset protection.

2. Charitable Lead Trusts. CLTs are split interest trusts which provide a stream of income to a charity of your choice for a period of years or a lifetime. Whatever’s left goes to you or your loved ones.

3. Charitable Remainder Trusts. CRTs are split interest trusts which provide a stream of income to you for a period of years or a lifetime and the remainder goes to the charity of your choice.

4. Special Needs Trusts. SNTs allow you to benefit someone with special needs without disqualifying them for governmental benefits. Federal laws allow special needs beneficiaries to obtain benefits from a carefully crafted trust without defeating eligibility for government benefits.

5. Generation-Skipping Trusts. GST Trusts allow you to distribute your assets to your grandchildren, or even to later generations, without paying the generation-skipping tax.

6. Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts. GRATs are irrevocable trusts which are used to make large financial gifts to family members while limiting estate and gift taxes.

7. Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts. ILITs are designed to exclude life insurance proceeds from the deceased’s estate for tax purposes. However, proceeds are still available to provide liquidity to pay taxes, equalize inheritances, fund buy-sell agreements, or provide an inheritance.

8. Marital Trusts. Marital Trusts are designed to provide asset protection and financial benefits to a surviving spouse. Trust assets are included in his or her estate for tax purposes.

9. Qualified Terminable Interest Property Trusts. QTIPs initially provide income to a surviving spouse and, upon his or her death, the remaining assets are distributed to other named beneficiaries. These are commonly used in second marriage situations and to maximize estate and generation-skipping tax exemptions and tax planning flexibility.

10. Testamentary Trusts. Testamentary Trusts are created in a will. These trusts are created upon an individual’s death and are commonly used to provide for a beneficiary. They are commonly used when a beneficiary is too young, has medical or drug issues, or may be a spendthrift. Trusts also provide asset protection from lawsuits brought against the beneficiary.

There are many types of trusts available. We’ll help you select which trusts, if any, are a good fit for you. Call today. We’re waiting to hear from you.