"Do I REALLY need an estate plan?" is a common question we get at Agemy Financial Strategies. Despite what you may think, every legal adult can benefit from estate planning. Here's how.
Retirement marks a significant transition in one's life—a time to relax, enjoy the fruits of years of hard work, and spend quality time with loved ones. However, amidst the excitement and anticipation of this new chapter, it is crucial not to overlook an essential aspect of retirement planning: estate planning.
Preparing for life after retirement involves much more than financial considerations. An estate plan ensures that your assets are protected and distributed according to your wishes, minimizing the burden on your loved ones and leaving a lasting legacy. This blog will explore the importance of estate planning and why it should be integral to your retirement preparations.
What is an Estate Plan?
Too many people think that wills and estate plans are for someone else—someone with more assets, wealth or more heirs, someone who owns a business or vacations in a second home. Where in reality, the "assets" in your "estate" means anything you actually own. Have your own home? That's an asset in your estate. Your engagement ring? That's an asset in your estate. Have a 401(k)? You guessed it, that's an asset too.
An estate plan includes a will, but it’s much more than that. A good estate plan outlines who you want making financial and health care decisions if you can’t make them for yourself. In general, it includes a will, a trust, a durable power of attorney, a health care power of attorney, and designations (often detailed in a letter of intent) as to beneficiaries and guardianship.
The end result of these documents is to:
- Support family, friends, or causes that are important to you,
- Provide for any children who need a guardian,
- Establish control over who gets what (and who doesn't),
- Minimize taxes and fees on your estate, and
- Establish ownership when you’re gone for a business or property such as a house or car.
Let's get into the finer details...
Protecting Your Loved Ones
Estate planning is a crucial step to protect your assets in unforeseen circumstances. 71% of American adults report that creating an estate plan would make them feel like good parents or partners. Yet only one-third of Americans have an estate plan by the time they're 65. While it can be an uncomfortable topic to think about and discuss, postponing estate planning for too long can lead to potential complications and difficulties.
Estate planning entails creating various documents, outlining the designating of healthcare proxies, and establishing powers of attorney if you were to pass away. This level of preparation can bring peace of mind to you and your family. Without a clear estate plan, the distribution of assets can lead to conflicts and disputes among family members.
Causing disagreements over who should receive what can strain relationships and create unnecessary tension during a difficult time. By engaging in estate planning, you can provide clear instructions regarding dividing your assets, minimizing potential conflicts, and ensuring that your loved ones are not burdened with difficult decisions.
Preserving Your Legacy
The first step in preserving your legacy is to craft a will or trust. A will is a legal document that outlines how you want your assets distributed after passing. It lets you specify who will inherit your property, money, and other assets. By creating a will, you have the power to ensure your loved ones receive their inheritance.
In certain situations, establishing a trust may be a more suitable option. A trust is a legal entity that holds your assets for designated beneficiaries. It offers you greater control over how your assets are managed and distributed. Trusts can provide additional benefits, such as minimizing estate taxes, protecting assets from creditors, and ensuring the long-term financial well-being of your beneficiaries. There are two common types of trusts to consider:
- Revocable Trusts: These trusts allow for changes and modifications during your lifetime. They offer flexibility and can be changed or revoked as circumstances evolve.
- Irrevocable Trusts: As the name suggests, these trusts cannot be changed once created. While they may offer less flexibility, they often provide enhanced asset protection and potential tax advantages.
The choice between a revocable or irrevocable trust depends on your specific needs, goals, and the nature of your assets. It gives you peace of mind from knowing your loved ones will be taken care of and that your hard-earned assets will be put to good use. Consulting with a Fiduciary Advisor can help you navigate the complexities of wills and trusts, ensuring that your plans align with your unique circumstances and objectives.
Minimizing Tax Liabilities
Reducing taxes on what you leave behind is a common estate-planning goal.
Estate planning is all about protecting your loved ones, which means in part giving them protection from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Essential to estate planning is transferring assets to heirs with an eye toward creating the smallest possible tax burden for them.
Even just a bit of estate planning can enable couples to reduce much or even all of their federal and state estate taxes and state inheritance taxes. There are also ways to decrease the income tax beneficiaries might have to pay. Without a plan, the amount that your heirs will owe Uncle Sam could be quite a lot:
- Trusts offer several advantages when it comes to estate tax planning. Transferring assets into a trust can remove them from your taxable estate, reducing the overall value subject to estate taxes. There are various types of trusts, such as revocable living trusts and irrevocable trusts, each with its tax benefits and considerations.
- Charitable giving
- is another effective way to minimize tax liabilities. Donating a portion of your estate to qualified philanthropic organizations allows you to support causes you care about and provides potential tax benefits. Charitable donations can result in deductions from your taxable estate, reducing the amount subject to estate taxes.
It is important to note that tax laws and regulations regarding estate taxes are subject to change. Staying informed and regularly reviewing your estate plan with a qualified professional is crucial to ensure your strategies align with current tax laws and maximize your tax-saving opportunities. Consulting with an estate planning professional can help you determine the most suitable trust structure for your circumstances.
If you live in one of the seventeen states that has an estate or inheritance tax, you might assess whether it would be worth it to move to one of the other thirty-three states to avoid those taxes. The states with an estate or inheritance tax are Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The District of Columbia also has an estate tax.
Ensuring Business Continuity
In our experience, one of the most overlooked estate planning needs is business continuity planning. If you are a business owner, estate planning becomes even more critical. A 2023 PWC survey shows that 98% of U.S. respondents have implemented some form of government policies within their family businesses. In contrast, the global average stands at 81%. The specific types of documents used to establish these policies range from shareholder agreements and trusts to dividend policies.
Planning for the succession or sale of your business ensures its smooth transition and longevity. By designating a successor or creating a comprehensive business succession plan, you can secure the future of your enterprise and protect the interests of your employees and stakeholders.
Business continuity planning involves preparing for potential disruptions and mitigating risks to ensure the uninterrupted operation of your company. It consists in identifying critical functions, developing strategies to maintain essential services, and implementing measures to minimize downtime during unforeseen events such as natural disasters, cyberattacks, economic downturns, or leadership transitions. An effective business plan should include the following:
- Risk Assessment
- Business Impact Analysis
- Emergency Response Plan
- Data Backup and Recovery
- Insurance Coverage
By implementing a robust business continuity plan into your estate plan, you demonstrate your commitment to the long-term success of your business. It reassures employees, customers, and stakeholders that your company can withstand unexpected challenges and deliver products and services reliably.
Preparing for life after retirement involves more than just financial planning. It requires thoughtful consideration of your wishes, protection for your loved ones, and the preservation of your legacy. Estate planning provides a comprehensive solution to address these aspects and helps ensure that your assets are distributed according to your intentions.
Agemy Financial Strategies is dedicated to providing knowledgeable guidance on estate planning. Our team of Fiduciary Advisors is here to assist you every step of the way, helping to ensure that your retirement years are filled with immense fulfillment. With our guidance, you can help leave a meaningful legacy that will endure for years and generations to come.