Estate Planning For Dummies, 2nd Edition
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An estate plan, including a last will and testament, protects your family and finances after you die. Your first step in estate planning is to write a comprehensive will that moves smoothly through the probate process.

Make sure you're aware of current estate taxes that may influence your planning and how insurance factors into your estate plan. Various types of trusts are available; do some research to find out whether setting up a trust is the way to go and consider some special circumstances that may arise and how they can affect your estate planning.

Last will and testament probate process

Probate is the method by which your estate is legally transferred after you die. When you’re planning your estate and writing your last will and testament, keep the following tips in mind to help the probate process run smoothly.

If you’re just beginning to plan an estate or write a last will and testament, start by figuring out everything that encompasses your estate.

It’s important to know before sitting down to write whether you have one piece of fine art or an entire gallery of work by the masters, to know whether you want to leave all your valuable collectibles to one person, or whether you want a say in where each one ends up, to decide to let your beneficiaries decide who gets what or not.

You may need to do further research in state laws or hire an estate attorney.

Things to Remember About Probate When Writing a Last Will and Testament

Be aware of estate-related taxes

Depending on the value of your estate, you may not have to deal with at least some of the federal taxes, but you or your surviving beneficiaries may have a substantial amount of tax-related paperwork to file. When estate planning, use these tips to understand what you’re dealing with from a tax standpoint:

  • Most people don’t have to pay the federal estate tax — the so-called “death tax” —because their estates fall below the federal threshold. But your estate may still be subject to state inheritance or estate taxes.

  • The federal gift tax and the federal estate tax are part of a unified tax system, so you need to pay attention to both of these taxes as you plan your overall estate tax strategy.

  • The little-known Estate Recovery Act can devastate your estate if you need to tap into certain types of government-paid health care.

Setting up a trust in your estate plan

Trusts can be a great help in your estate planning — they can protect your property, save on estate taxes, and help you avoid probate. Sounds great, right?

Well, before seriously considering a trust, you need to understand the basics of trusts and make a well-informed decision about setting up trusts right for you. Here are some important factors to consider:

  • Some trusts are general purpose; others focus on specific objectives, such as supporting your favorite charity or helping to pay for your children’s or grandchildren’s education.
  • A revocable living trust may be an ideal tool to protect your estate. But beware — everyone, it seems, is trying to sell you a revocable living trust. Watch out for the hype!
  • A bypass trust or a qualified terminable interest property (QTIP) trust can help you and your spouse avoid unnecessary federal estate taxes. But you need to decide which type of trust works best in your situation.
  • Some trusts are revocable, meaning that you can change your mind. Other trusts are irrevocable — they can’t be changed after you set them up. Make sure you understand the trade-offs for your estate planning.

Estate planning for special situations

Even the most orderly estate plans can fall victim to some unforeseen event. To put together a thorough estate plan, take a look at situations that may occur and find out the necessary information for dealing with them.

  • If you’re in the process of getting a divorce, you have a lot on your mind. But you also need to look at how your divorce will affect your estate planning. Chances are the answer is “a lot!”

  • Part of your estate planning must deal with the possibility of becoming incompetent — unable to take care of yourself. Prepare now, just in case.

  • If you have pets, you need to specify how you want your pets taken care of after you die.

  • Unmarried couples, either opposite-sex or same-sex, need to pay special attention to each person’s estate planning. Otherwise, problems almost always occur when one partner dies before the other.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Jordan S. Simon is a partner at the Venture West Group and coauthored the first edition of Estate Planning For Dummies. Joseph Mashinski is an attorney and consultant with more than 19 years of experience in estate plan­ning, insurance, employee benefits, and ERISA compliance.

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