Years ago, the term "estate planning" was a term that described how the wealthy left their many belongings to their heirs. It seemed inappropriate to say that you had an "estate," when you were struggling to make sure you have enough money to make it through your golden years comfortably.
But now virtually everybody has an estate - and you better do some pretty serious and informed legal planning or you'll lose it. You may not know how you will lose it, but there's a pretty good chance you'll lose your estate (or at least a good chunk of it) to the following:
- Taxes. You pay income tax your entire life. Then, when you die, you face an estate tax that will take up to 55% of what you own. Planning techniques can avoid or minimize what your family must give to the government and the earlier you start planning to avoid estate tax, the more likely it is that you'll keep more in your family.
- Nursing Home Poverty. Every day, families are wiped out from long term care costs. The finest legal plan does no good if you are forced by the government to spend it all first on your long term care needs. Fortunately, if you are smart enough to plan ahead (at least five years ahead), you can protect your life savings and the value of your home from these medical expenses.
- Probate. Probate costs are rising. Probate costs commonly include court costs, attorney fees, executor fees, appraisal fees, accounting costs, bonding fees, and recording charges, sucking a big chunk of your estate away from your family. Fortunately, you can arrange your affairs to minimize (or eliminate) probate, leaving more for your loved ones.
- Divorce. The divorce rate these days ain't what it was when you were growing up - it's much worse. Unless you set things up right, there's a good chance that you'll leave your child an inheritance, and then they'll lose it when they later get a divorce. Fortunately, there are legal strategies that are available so that you can protect your children's inheritance from their past, present and future divorces.
It's tough enough to keep what you have. It's even harder to ensure that what you have goes intact to your loved ones die. There will be many vultures tugging away at it after you pass on, so do what you can to protect it for them in the future. I'm predicting that in the future, the taxes will be greater, and it will be harder for the next generation to accumulate some savings, so the more you can do to help them - the better. Have a great 2013!