Below is a good article on how wealthy consumers, just like the middle class, have not taken even the most basic steps when it comes to planning their estates. Forget them having a sophisticated tax plan through a revocable trust, no, they don’t have anything at all.
One of the reasons for this is that wealthy consumers have fatigue when it comes to discussing wills, trusts, etc. They haven’t spent the time and effort to find a good law firm to deal with this because they are unsure about the rules and, therefore, have been confused, which has correspondingly led to inaction.
Read the CNBC article below for some more detail on this.
Wealthy suffer from ‘estate-planning fatigue’
Shelly Schwartz, special to CNBC.com
Despite their wealth and business savvy, more than one-third of high-net-worth families have not taken the most basic steps to protect and provide for their loved ones when they die, according to a recent survey by CNBC.com.
The CNBC Millionaire Survey found 38 percent of those with investable assets of $1 million or more have not used a financial expert to establish an estate plan, while 62 percent have.
Individuals with $5 million or more (68 percent) were more likely to do so, compared to those with $1 million to $5 million in assets (61 percent), according to the survey, conducted by Spectrem Group for CNBC, which polled 750 millionaires.
Republicans (68 percent) were also more likely to use a financial advisor to establish an estate plan than Democrats (61 percent) or independents (58 percent).
The numbers don’t surprise Mitch Drossman, national director of wealth-planning strategies for U.S. Trust, who said the constant changes to the federal estate-tax law for nearly a decade (until it was made permanent in 2013) resulted in “estate-planning fatigue.”
“We have had an incredible amount of uncertainty with respect to estate taxes, and every change led advisors to reach out to their clients to explain these changes and be sure their documents were up to date and reflective of those changes,” he said. “Clients finally said, ‘Enough already.'”
The higher federal estate-tax exemption amount, which now stands at $5.43 million per person due to annual inflation adjustments, has also rendered estate planning a lesser priority for many wealthy families, said David Mendels, a certified financial planner and director of planning for Creative Financial Concepts.
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Married couples can combine their exemptions to give away $10.86 million tax-free in 2015.
“I think people tend to think of estate planning as being primarily a means to reduce estate taxes, and therefore, if they don’t have to pay estate tax, they may feel they don’t have to do any planning,” said Mendels.
But 15 states, including New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, as well as the District of Columbia, levy their own estate taxes, which kick in at much lower thresholds. New Jersey’s exemption, for example, is $675,000, Rhode Island’s is $921,655, and Maryland’s is $1 million. “Depending on where you live, estate taxes may still be a factor,” said Mendels.
Estate planning, however, is about much more than the size of one’s taxable estate, he said.
It’s a series of documents that protect your assets, provide for your children and delineate your wishes regarding end-of-life decisions. Absent specific instructions, family members are left to guess at what you would have wanted, causing unnecessary stress and infighting.
“Estate planning is not necessarily synonymous with tax planning,” said Drossman at U.S. Trust. “There are still many valid reasons to do non-tax estate planning to address property management, to protect assets and to address exactly where you stand on issues you may confront later in life, like cognitive decline or disability.
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“That’s going to be a bigger issue with longer life expectancies, better medical care and the aging population,” he added.
For families with minor children, a last will and testament is the most critical estate-planning document they can have, said Mendels at Creative Financial Concepts.
Thy will be done
Failure to do so means the courts would have to decide who is best suited to care for your children if tragedy should strike. A medical power of attorney is another important weapon in your estate-planning arsenal, authorizing an individual to make health-care decisions on your behalf in the event of physical injury or cognitive impairment.
If you’re married, that’s typically your spouse, but if he or she dies first, you’ll need a backup”ideally, someone who is geographically nearby who can communicate in person with your health-care providers, said estate-planning attorney and CFP Austin Frye, founder and president of Frye Financial Center.
“If, God forbid, you are put in a situation from which you are not going to recover, you want to keep control over what happens to you,” said Frye.
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Such documents are often created alongside an advanced medical directive for physicians, also called a living will, which clarify your wishes regarding end-of-life medical treatment, including resuscitation and organ donation. (Make sure you have a HIPAA form attached, which grants your power of attorney the right to access your medical records, which are protected under privacy laws.)
A durable financial power of attorney document is also necessary, as it identifies the person you’d like to manage your money if you are unable to make decisions for yourself, said Frye. Such legal documents grant that person legal authority to pay taxes on your behalf, borrow money, pay your bills, invest and handle bank transactions.
With higher income-tax rates in effect, tools and techniques that help minimize the income-tax hit to your estate”and your heirs”are playing a far bigger role in estate planning today, said Mendels at Creative Financial Concepts.
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