Estate planning is meeting with clients and drafting written documents which outline and describe how the clients want their affairs to be handled after they pass away and if they become incapacitated and can’t handle their own affairs.
Michigan has a set of laws in place which are called the Intestate Succession laws. These laws basically set forth how a person’s assets will pass if they die and don’t leave a will or other written directions. The laws are set up as “default rules” and are intended to protect the family of the decedent so that the estate is going to pass to a surviving spouse and children first, and then after that, if there is no spouse or children, the estate passes down the bloodline or up the bloodline to the next closest blood relatives. The probate court will determine to whom the assets pass by these default rules and will also appoint the person or persons who will handle the final affairs of the deceased by the priorities also set forth in these laws.
I recommend that people take a good look at their estate plan every time there is a substantial change in their family circumstances (like a birth, a death, a divorce or a remarriage) or any time there is a substantial change in their financial circumstances (if they hit the lottery, inherit a substantial sum, or retire). Even if none of those things happen, I still suggest that they review their estate plan every three to five years just to make sure that it’s still what they need and what they want. Sometimes the people that they will leave assets to or appoint as their fiduciaries will move or pass away, that can also be a time when they need to make some changes or think about making some changes.
Yes, changes in tax laws can have an impact on everyone’s estate plan, in many different ways.
Since the end of last year, we have substantial increases in estate tax exclusion amounts, meaning that most people don’t have to worry too much about Federal estate taxes anymore. The amount of assets that you can leave to your heirs is up to around $10 million per person for someone dying this year and that means someone has to be quite wealthy to be worried about estate taxes.
But estate taxes aren’t the only taxes to be worried about when someone dies. There are “generation skipping transfer taxes” when someone wants to leave amounts to grandchildren and skip a generation.
Also, when someone dies, there are potential capital gains taxes to be considered if you are going to leave behind assets that are going to appreciate substantially in value. In addition, because of the step-up basis that heirs usually receive, there may be tax planning issues for the family.
There are a lot of different types of taxes to be examined at when you are doing an estate plan. It is truly correct that “nothing is sure, except death and taxes”.
Indeed, most people customize their estate plans to account for mental incapacity. The “aging of America” has shown many of us the need to plan for our old age and the effects that it might have upon us and our families.
I think that’s a very important issue to be discussed with all clients. If some calamity happens or a serious sickness occurs, and someone is incapacitated and can’t handle their own affairs, they need to have someone in place to help with those decisions. If they don’t have some document in place that names somebody else to do that for them, then the only other option is the necessity to go to probate court, and then the judge is going to appoint somebody to do that for them. The court might not appoint a person that they want to be in that position, so planning for that possibility is an essential part of any good estate plan.
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