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Estate Planning Checklist to Keep You Focused

June 12, 2024
For people nearly or newly retired, who potentially still have decades ahead for their assets to compound and grow, estate taxes are a huge concern.

The federal estate tax exemption many Americans enjoy is scheduled to sunset at the end of 2025. This means the current exemption from federal estate tax will cut in half for anyone dying on or after January 1, 2026. According to a recent article from Kiplinger, “13 Smart Estate Planning Moves,” this large exemption had many people thinking they didn’t need to worry about estate taxes or other ways their legacies could be threatened. Although even after cutting in half, the estate tax exemption will still be quite significant (probably around $7 million per person), this is still a good time for everyone to review their estate plans.

Here are steps to discuss with your estate planning attorney:

Rethink your IRA investment strategy. With limited exceptions, inherited accounts must be emptied within ten years of the original owner’s death.

The age for RMDs (Required Minimum Distributions) rose to 73 in 2023 and will increase to 75 in 2033. You could take a voluntary distribution and convert it to a Roth IRA if you're younger. Taxes are paid when you make a contribution, grow tax-free and there are no taxes on withdrawals. It’s a good deal, depending on your circumstances.

Use the annual gift tax exclusion to make gifts to as many people as you wish, up to $18,000 per person in 2024. A recent change to the 529 College Savings Account rules lets a gift giver fund five years of gifting into one account.

Pay medical or education expenses for someone else. Just remember to make checks out directly to the educational institution or care provider, not to the person.

Set up an irrevocable trust for a spouse, specifically a Spousal Lifetime Access Trust (SLAT), which lets you name a spouse as the beneficiary and children or grandchildren as remainder beneficiaries. Your spouse can tap it for health, education and living expenses.

Preserve assets with a bypass trust, funded at the first spouse's death. The surviving spouse has access to the funds, with expenses for health, education, maintenance and support generally approved.

If you need to protect assets from creditors or litigation, a domestic asset protection trust allows you to keep funds out of your estate while you can be a beneficiary.

Use a revocable trust to manage assets. You won’t get any estate tax breaks. However, it’s easier for a successor trustee to take charge in case of incapacity.

Plan for Medicaid by transferring assets to a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust. MAPTs are state-specific, so consult with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Get your assets organized. If possible, consolidate accounts with one institution. This will keep your estate settlement less complicated and, therefore, less costly.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 9, 2024) “13 Smart Estate Planning Moves”

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