Estate Planning

Have you thought much about your legacy, the lasting imprint that is now a work in progress?  It speaks to how you wish to be remembered by family, friends, and the recognition of your contributions to your community and other worthy causes.
Your legacy also includes the financial impact you plan to leave on those that you care about.  Like most things in life, this requires careful planning, especially as to how your assets will be transferred efficiently to your heirs and the desired timing of the transfers.

In addition, a good estate plan protects you from the risks associated with losing your mental and/or physical ability, ensuring legal provisions are in place so that trusted agents can make important medical and legal decisions on your behalf.

Many fall into the trap of viewing estate planning as a death tax savings matter or that it just concerns the ultra wealthy.  The reality is that most people need a well-developed estate transfer plan that considers all of the unique facts and circumstances of their family situation.

Estate planning is a complex area of wealth management.  Decisions regarding the appropriate use of a trust, gifting issues, equitable inheritance planning, the proper titling of assets and the implications of government assistance programs on your estate are just a few examples of common estate transfer issues that should be addressed through thoughtful estate planning.


An alarming percentage of Americans either do not have a will or possess a poorly constructed one.  For parents with minor children without a valid will naming a legal guardian, the decision as to whom would raise your children in the event of their demise would be made by a judge! 

Furthermore, should you die without a valid will, your estate would be subject to intestacy laws and your heirs would lose control over the inheritance outcome.  For families in second marriages, intestacy and/or old wills could lead to the unintended disinheritance of loved ones. 

A will is a flexible document that accomplishes a number of planning objectives after your death.  Including a trust in your will can help protect your spouse and children over long periods of time and lower estate taxes as well.

Ownership of some assets do not pass through probate (will) but by operation of law. Ownership of jointly held assets, for example, can automatically transfer to the surviving co-owner.  Similarly, life insurance, IRA and retirement plan accounts must adhere to designated beneficiary forms to transfer legal ownership; beneficiary designation document trumps the instructions in your will. 

Selecting a qualified executor is important because this person or entity is held responsible for settling your estate, transferring ownership of assets, paying taxes, discharging debts, and generally following your will instructions.  A surviving spouse is typically not qualified or emotionally prepared to serve as the executor of the spouse's estate.  Appointing a professional executor in your will is the best way to avoid costly probate mistakes.


A trust is a centuries-old legal arrangement whereby money or property is owned and managed by one person (or organization) for the benefit of another. 

A trust is created by a settlor, who entrusts some or all of his property to people of his choice (the trustees).  The trustee is the legal owner of the trust property ("corpus"), but is obliged to hold the property for the benefit of one or more individuals or organizations ("beneficiary") specified by the settlor.  The trustee owes a fiduciary duty to the trust beneficiary, who is the "beneficial" owner of the trust corpus.  The fiduciary standard is the highest legal, ethical and professional standard of conduct. 

The trust is governed by the terms of the trust document, which is usually written, and is governed by local and state law.  A trust can be created during a person's life (usually by a trust instrument) or after death ('testamentary trust") in a will. 

Some of the benefits of using a trust include privacy protection, control retention, probate avoidance, death tax reduction, asset protection and safeguarding assets for children.  Note that a revocable living trust is a popular form of trust and it can be beneficial in some situations, but for most folks it is unnecessary. 

Estate Transfer

Transferring your estate to the next generation can be a daunting goal.  Procrastination can prevail and a golden planning opportunity lost.  Aside from the obvious tax consequences associated with wealth transfer, the transfer of ownership of a family business requires forethought and planning to address non-financial transfer issues as well.  Chances are that sooner is the best time for you to develop your estate transfer plan, not later. 

For a family business owner, a key estate transfer question is whether "equal" means fair to the children who are either not involved or only partially involved in the business. Family wealth can be difficult to divide, so estate transfer planning techniques may range from life insurance to advanced estate planning to engender a fair and equitable division of wealth among the family. 

The traditional estate transfer objective has been estate tax avoidance or creating estate liquidity after death.  There are a number of estate freeze strategies that allow the transfer of equity in an appreciating business or real estate to the next generation during your lifetime while control is retained by the owner generation.  These transfers reduce your estate at the time of the gift and in the future as future appreciation of the assets confers to the family members.