Estate planning is a process that allows one to determine how their assets will be distributed upon death. As we prepare to pass our lifetime assets to our heirs, there are key components of an estate plan that should be given careful consideration.
The fundamental component of any estate plan is the Last Will and Testament commonly referred to as the Will. It is also important that an individual maintains and updates their will and two powers of attorney documents: 1) for property such as real estate, bank accounts, and investment assets, and 2) a power of attorney for personal health care.
Review your estate planning documents Life changes can affect the integration of each of the above strategic solutions. Therefore, it is important to review the above aspects of an estate plan every three to five years. For example, there may be a change in family structure, so beneficiaries may need to be reviewed. Or, if you remarry, your existing Will may automatically become nullified.
Your net assets can change Keep an eye on your net worth. Other life changes that require updating your estate plan include changes in your net worth, or if the value of your residence or investment changed. If you have significant changes in net worth, have your accountant make sure that the best tax arrangements are in place.
Business strategies to protect your net assets If you are the shareholder of business assets, make sure that a buy-sell agreement is in place in the event of your death or disability, assuring that every owner is covered with life and disability (income replacement) insurance.
Personal estate plans An estate plan may benefit from using formal trusts to reduce taxes. Life insurance products such as segregated funds and term funds can also be used to circumvent or minimize probate or government estate administration taxes (EAT) or attending legal fees. In most cases when a beneficiary is named in a life insurance policy, proceeds will pass and the capital in most cases will transfer on a tax-free basis to beneficiaries, thus avoiding probate or EAT scrutiny. Generally the taxes will be due in the estate’s final taxes.
For an estate plan seeking to transfer large capital assets to named heirs, it would be wise to discuss these capital-transfer techniques with an accountant and/or tax lawyer.