Legacy planning, more than any other area of estate planning, reflects who we are and the imprint we will leave for our loved ones. A carefully designed estate plan is more likely to preserve family harmony and values. How we choose to transfer our assets can be as simple as relying upon state intestacy laws or as complex as creating dynasty trusts that will provide for future generations of beneficiaries. While the options are limitless, there are best practices. For example, a trust-based estate plan is preferable if you want to avoid probate to the greatest extent possible or if you want to keep your affairs as private as possible. A will-based plan is preferable if you want to avoid the administrative tasks required with a living trust.
Under a will or trust your assets will transfer to your selected beneficiaries in the amount, time, and manner that you have chosen. For example, if a beneficiary is disabled or is a minor, it is best to create a trust so distributions will be subject to guidelines you establish and under the oversight of your trustee. You may also wish to provide for the education of your children and grandchildren, or help with the purchase of a home or business.
Giving strategies are another important component of the estate plan. Charitable giving is not only rewarding on a personal level, it is also one of the most effective planning tools to minimize or avoid estate, gift, and income taxes. You can also make gifts during your life up to $15,000 annually to any individual. If you are married, each spouse can gift up to $15,000 to the same individual for a total of $30,000. In addition to effectively reducing state or federal estate taxes upon death, you get the reward of giving during your life. More advanced estate planning techniques leverage valuation discounts with gifting to further reduce the value of an estate.