While there are many mistakes people can make while planning their estates, a recent column on Forbes.com, lists some of the errors most frequently encountered.
1. Not having a Florida Estate Plan
Not having a will or trust means that at your death the distribution of your assets will be dictated by the inheritance laws of the state where you were domiciled, likely Florida. These “intestacy laws” leave a percentage of assets to various members of your family. While there’s a small chance that the laws will accomplish what you wanted, that’s unlikely. Your will applies to the disposition of your “probate assets,” those things that are not following a beneficiary designation. Non-probate assets will pass by operation of law or contract. For example, whoever the beneficiary designation was when you originally began your 401(k) or IRA will override either your will or the laws of intestacy. This could easily lead to distribution of your assets to people you may not anticipate.
2. Failure to take advantage of the estate tax exemption
As every good Florida estate planning attorney will tell you, making lifetime gifts is a simple and effective estate tax minimization strategy. Giving away assets at no gift tax cost will allow the corpus of the trust and any future appreciation to avoid estate tax upon the death of the donor. Using the exemption equivalent amount during your life is better than leaving it till your death. The reason to act now is that the current estate tax structure is set to expire at the end of 2012. Beyond the annual exclusion gift limit of $13,000, the federal exemption amount for transfers during life and death has increased to $5,120,000 per person for 2012, far and away higher than it has ever been. If you’re able and willing to do so making such gifts before the end of the year is a good idea.
3. Leaving assets outright to your children
There’s a growing consensus that among those with the means assets should remain in trust even for adult children as long as possible to serve the goal of asset protection. The question of a trust often does not hinge on legal capacity or maturity, though they can sometimes be factors. The question is instead how do I protect the people I leave my assets to from creditors, potential creditors and ex-spouses. Whether or not to leave assets in trust for adult children depends on many factors; not the least of which is personal preference. However, in our incredibly litigious society, leaving some assets in trust with easy access is certainly an idea worth considering.
4. Going it alone rather than relying on professionals
While many people are increasingly turning to the Internet to help prepare their wills and trusts and dozens of websites cater to such customers, doing so can be a recipe for disaster. Proper estate planning is complicated and cumbersome and requires a well thought out plan. Websites can provide you with documents but no actual advice that fits you in the context of your specific personal and financial circumstances.
If you have questions about probating an estate or about a will or a trust, contact the Law Office of David M. Goldman PLLC today at (904) 685-1200.
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