Your Will May Not Be Enough -- Here's What You Can Do Instead

posted on 06-07-2019

It's never fun to think about death -- especially your own. But we all die, and when we do, we want our loved ones to benefit from our legacy.

Yet it's scary to think that taxes and expenses can eat away at our wealth after we're gone.

But there is a little-known way to cut death taxes and costs. It's a way that the rich have long known about, but you can benefit too.

I'll tell you about it in a minute....

But first, understand that your money can get hit double in some situations. For example, even though your assets have probably already been taxed, they may be taxed again when your estate is worth more than $5.25 million. Estate taxes, inheritance taxes and other costs like those associated with probate can reduce the value of your assets, leaving less than you might think to those you love the most.

Many people think this is merely the cost of doing business. After all, how do you stop the government (both state and federal, in many cases) from claiming part of your estate? It seems a hopeless cause.

It’s not. There’s a secret to reducing the tax bite and probate costs that come with your death. The secret is one that rich parents employ to ensure that their wealth passes on, mostly intact, to the next generation. But you don’t even have to be fabulously wealthy to take advantage. 

What is the secret? Estate planning

In some cases, it’s not enough just to have a will if you want to pass more of your assets along to your loved ones. Most people just make out a will and assume they are done. The truth, though, is that a will is only the start of estate planning for some. Even with a will, there are estate taxes and sometimes even probate and other costs. And though probate isn't always the stressful, never-ending saga it's typically thought to be, your loved ones could still face steep costs when all you do is make a will.

If you want to think rich and ensure a smooth transfer of assets, here are two of the estate-planning tactics you can use:

Living Trust

For most people, a well-drafted will is all they need. However, a living trust is one of the most employed tactics of the wealthy when the smooth transfer of assets is desired. A living trust is one in which you transfer ownership of your property to a separate legal entity -- the trust. This property can include anything from cash to stocks to real estate to a business to just about anything else. You can name beneficiaries (including yourself) who can receive the benefits of the trust’s earnings while you are alive, as well as after you pass on.

A living trust can help you reduce estate tax and even avoid probate altogether, depending on how the trust is structured. Primary candidates for living trusts include those who have a number of income-producing assets and those who are concerned about the effects that are passing on an estate worth more than $5.25 million.

Depending on what you hope to accomplish, you can arrange matters so that you have a large degree of control over the assets in the trust, limited control or even no control.

Advanced Tax Planning Strategies

Limited liability companies, family limited partnerships, charitable lead or remainder trusts (if you want to benefit a charity), and more can help you reduce your tax liability upon death.

Each of these strategies can help you improve the overall tax efficiency of your assets, and ensure a smooth transfer to your survivors. Consultation with a knowledgeable estate tax attorney can help you decide how to proceed and what is likely to be most advantageous for your situation and your goals.

You will probably have to pay someone to help you properly strategize, but when you compare the cost with the savings down the road, it can be worth it. On top of that, your assets will, for the most part, transfer smoothly as you wish them to, rather than being tied up in probate court for months -- or even years.

The Investing Answer: Consider some type of living trust. You might be surprised at how beneficial a living trust can be, even if you don’t have a huge net worth. If your net worth is expected to be in the millions upon your death, be sure to consider advanced tax planning strategies on top of your living trust arrangement.

While you can get low-cost help from sites such as LegalZoom, consult with a professional if your finances are complex.

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