Planning for an Uncertain Future (Without a Crystal Ball)
Creating a will, trust, or any type of estate plan has always involved dealing with an uncertain future. Consider that just 20 years ago in 1997, the estate tax had an astonishing 55% rate with only a $600,000 exemption. Back then, tax-driven estate planning was a mathematical necessity for a large segment of the population.
Fast forward to 2017. Not only do we now have a generous $5.49 million exemption and a lower 40% rate, we also have renewed emphasis and action from the President and Congress on repealing the estate tax, as evidenced by the September 27, 2017 Unified Framework for Fixing Our Broken Tax Code. So what does this mean for you, as you’re planning for the future?
Estate Tax Repeal Means No Need to Plan…Right?
Nothing could be further from the truth! Although there was a lot of tax-driven planning in the past, in recent years estate planning has largely focused on protecting assets, ensuring privacy, preserving family unity, and effectively passing along financial and emotional legacies. We focus on basis planning, to minimize capital gain taxes, and work to solve income tax issues that can plague our heirs.
And, for those with high net worth, it’s also worth mentioning that estate tax repeal is far from a foregone conclusion at this point. The Unified Framework still must be crafted into legislation that must pass both houses of Congress and then be signed by the President. Given the political division the country faces (and the likely stiff opposition to the President’s tax proposal from Congressional Democrats), this will be no small feat.
While we wait for Congress to act on the Unified Framework, it’s also worth noting that the estate tax was already effectively repealed for more than 99% of American estates when the exemption was raised to $5 million (and indexed for inflation) in 2010. The vast majority of estates fall below this threshold and need no special planning to avoid the estate tax. But don’t think you’re out of the woods because you have less than $5 million.
Today, the focus of estate planning has shifted away from death taxes to other concerns that affect most families. Estate planners, like us, can now work with you to protect you and your family against costly, public probate, guardianship, or conservatorship court proceedings, protect your assets from creditors, divorce, or lawsuits from outsiders that might prey on your surviving spouse and children, and also further your legacy goals.
You might be worried about some of these things happening to your family:
- A financially irresponsible child or grandchild wasting their inheritance simply because they lack the financial maturity to handle wealth.
- A divorcing spouse of one of your heirs taking advantage of family wealth.
- Family discord lurking under the surface that tears your family apart, especially after the death of the patriarch or matriarch.
- A lawsuit, judgment, or bankruptcy that causes your family to lose their inheritance.
- Alzheimer’s or another cognitive impairment affecting you or someone else in your family.
Luckily, we have well-developed, flexible legal strategies (such as lifetime trusts, standby special needs trusts, and robust incapacity planning, to name a few) for overcoming these issues. Although estate planning can’t necessarily repair a damaged family relationship, proper planning can help make sure it does not get any worse. But these strategies only work when we have a chance to work with you to implement or refresh your will, trust, and estate plan.
So, there’s no crystal ball. Where should I go from here?
According to WealthCounsel’s 2016 Estate Planning Literacy Survey, about 74% of Americans find estate planning to be a confusing topic. So, you’re not alone if you’re unsure about your next steps. We’re here to help.
If you don’t yet have a will or trust, now is the time to explore getting one. If you have an “old” will or trust, now is the time to talk with us about whether you need an update. Modern families need modern estate planning solutions, and we are ready to help you create a flexible estate plan that works now, and will work in the future, even if the current tax laws change. No crystal balls needed here; just a conversation to clear away the confusion and help you accomplish all you want to do for you and your family.
You’re worth it, and so are the ones you love.