Because estate planning is not just about reducing taxes but also about making sure your assets are distributed as you wish both now and after you’re gone, you need to consider three questions before you begin your estate planning.

  1. Who should inherit your assets?

If you are married, before you can decide who should inherit your assets, you must consider marital rights. States have different laws designed to protect surviving spouses. If you die without a will or living trust, state law will dictate how much passes to your spouse. Even with a will or living trust, if you provide less for your spouse than state law deems appropriate, the law will allow the survivor to elect to receive the greater amount.

Once you’ve considered your spouse’s rights, ask yourself these questions:

  • Should your children share equally in your estate?
  • Do you wish to include grandchildren or others as beneficiaries?
  • Would you like to leave any assets to charity?
  1. Which assets should they inherit?

You may want to consider special questions when transferring certain types of assets. For example:

  • If you own a business, should the stock pass only to your children who are active in the business? Should you compensate the others with assets of comparable value?
  • If you own rental properties, should all beneficiaries inherit them? Do they all have the ability to manage property? What are the cash needs of each beneficiary?
  1. When and how should they inherit the assets?

To determine when and how your beneficiaries should inherit your assets, you need to focus on three factors:

  • The potential age and maturity of the beneficiaries,
  • The financial needs of you and your spouse during your lifetimes, and
  • The tax implications.

Outright bequests offer simplicity, flexibility and some tax advantages, but you have no control over what the recipient does with the assets once they are transferred. Trusts can be useful when the beneficiaries are young or immature, when your estate is large, and for tax planning reasons. They also can provide the professional asset management capabilities an individual beneficiary lacks.

SOURCE: Lisa Golshani