You may not think of yourself as wealthy, but when you have accounted for your home, investments, personal property, retirement accounts, and all insurance that you own in your name, you may have assets over $1.5 million and that means you are "wealthy", according to the IRS.
In 2004, every dollar over $1.5 million may be subject to federal estate taxes of up to 48%. If a majority of your assets are in retirement accounts, including qualified plans and IRAs, your estate could lose over two-thirds of its value to federal estate and income taxes, leaving your beneficiaries with a much smaller portion of what you worked so hard to accumulate.
Be sure it keeps pace with changes in your own personal circumstances and adjustments in tax laws. Marriage, divorce, birth, a move to another state or a change in your finances should signal an immediate review and possible updating of your will.
The IRS allows U.S. citizens to pass the first $1.5 million of assets in 2004 (incrementally increasing to $3.5 million by 2009) to their beneficiaries free of federal estate tax. Be sure to plan properly so that both spouses use their estate tax exclusions.
Holding property in joint tenancy with the right of survivorship is a simple way to avoid probate. The probate process may increase your estate administration expenses, delay the execution of your wishes and subject your affairs to unwanted publicity.
If you plan to gift your IRA or qualified plan to heirs at death, the account could lose up to two-thirds of its value to federal estate and income taxes. Taking distributions from your IRA or qualified plan and purchasing a life insurance policy held in an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT) could be a consideration. That way your heirs receive the insurance death benefit free of estate and income taxes (if the ILIT and plan are properly designed), instead of a fraction of your IRA or qualified plan.
Lifetime gifts to family members or others can reduce your potential estate tax liability by removing the gifted assets and any future income and appreciation on those assets from your estate. You are entitled to transfer up to $11,0001 per person each year without incurring any gift tax or reducing your lifetime gift tax exclusion amount.(Spouses together may gift up to $22,000.)
Generally, the IRS requires that any federal estate tax liability be satisfied within nine months of the date of death, and that payment must be in cash. There are four typical sources from which funds can be obtained: cash reserves, loans, liquidation of assets or life insurance proceeds.
If properly owned by a trust or third party, life insurance proceeds may be income tax free to the recipient and not subject to estate tax. However, the proceeds will be subject to estate tax if you (as the insured) own or have rights in the policy. Purchasing the policy within an irrevocable trust may prevent life insurance proceeds from increasing your estate tax liability.
Keep copies of your important papers and make sure that appropriate parties know where these papers are kept.
Selecting one family member among several may create unforeseen problems down the road. Fiduciary duties may call for the expertise, impartiality and independence of a corporate trustee, at least as co-trustee.
Finally, discuss your estate planning objectives, concerns and fears with your Financial Consultant, as well as your tax and legal advisors, so that you can develop a plan for effectively transferring wealth to your heirs.
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