The primary purpose of any will, trust, or estate planning is to make sure that your assets are distributed or held for those individuals or entities which you choose. In a will, you designate your beneficiaries so that upon your passing, your property can be distributed to your spouse, if surviving, or otherwise to your children. You can determine the percentage of the estate which any individual, charity or other entity will receive. If your children or other beneficiaries predecease you, then you should further designate the alternate beneficiaries. In a will, you also designate the individual(s) whom you want to act as the Guardian for your minor children. The guardian of the person is the individual(s) who will actually have physical care and custody of your children, while the guardian of the estate will manage any and distribute any money to or for your minor children. You also designate the executor to act on your behalf once you pass away to make sure all of your assets are brought into the estate, all bills are paid, and the assets are distributed to the beneficiaries you have listed in the will.
In the event you do not want your children to receive the property until some time after they turn eighteen years of age, you can establish a trust either within the will or as a separate document. A trust allows you to have the money distributed to the trustee, who then manages the money until your children reach whatever age you specify. If you want the property to be held for them and used for their care until they turn twenty-five or thirty years of age, you would set forth the provisions in a trust so that their living expenses could be paid by the trustee and then the children would receive their lump sum distribution from the trust when they reach the age of twenty-five or thirty or any other age you specify. Aside from the age for distribution to your children, a trust allows you to specify exactly what property will be paid to them and under what circumstances. You can designate that the property will be used to pay for the education, health care costs and other welfare needs of your children, as well as specify provisions allowing the trustee to distribute property to your children in order to start a business, buy a house or almost any other action which you would want to fund. You also specify who the trustee will be to manage your money in case you are incapacitated or pass away, as well as designate successor trustees to act in case any of the other individuals pass away or are not able to act.
A trust also allows you to include some estate planning provisions to help avoid some of the estate tax paid when a person passes away. For the year 2000, any individual can give property during their life or death to anyone other than a spouse in an amount up to $675,000.00 without incurring any gift, inheritance, or estate tax. Everything over $675,000.00 is taxed at an increasing rate of 37% up to a maximum tax rate of 55%. Thus, the more money you give or transfer at death, the higher the tax rate. However, a gift or transfer of assets to a spouse is an unlimited transfer with no gift or estate tax ramifications. Including certain estate planning provisions in a trust can allow you to utilize the full exemption for both spouses and thus save in excess of $200,000.00 in estate tax. There are a wide variety of trusts and uses of trusts in any estate plan.
If you would be interested in learning more about wills, the trusts specified above, or other trusts such as a charitable remainder trust, qualified personal residence trust, insurance trust, generation skipping trust, or others, please e-mail us or contact us to set an appointment to discuss these items.