Most people don’t like thinking about death or who will get what after they die. But refusing to take time to plan your estate can have costly tax implications. Proper planning will not only ensure your wishes are carried out, but prevent your family from losing a huge chunk of your assets unnecessarily—in some cases, over half the assets you worked a lifetime to achieve. Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to avert this disaster and, often, avoid paying estate taxes altogether.

Help your estate remain a valuable asset today and tomorrow. Avoid these five common and expensive estate planning mistakes—and make sure your heirs do the same:

  1. Not making a plan – Procrastinating will get you nowhere—except a ticket to the “laws of intestacy.” Dying without a signed will or trust gives your state carte blanche to come in and decide who will get your assets and how. It also guarantees your estate will pay the maximum estate taxes.
  2. Not updating a plan — Life changes and so do tax laws. As a result, your estate plan may need to be revised. People get divorced, blend families, die out of order, and sometimes change their minds about power of attorney or who they would want to look after their kids or pets. Similarly, death taxes increase, decrease, or kick in at different income levels depending on tax code changes. Don’t “accidentally” leave everything to a now ex-spouse, omit a stepchild from your will, or be more illiquid than you should be. Review your plan at least once a year.
  3. Not funding a trust – Having a trust is a great way to avoid unnecessary taxes—provided you remember to fund it. That means retitling assets, so they’re actually in the trust and protected from having to go through probate. These assets can include stocks, bonds, real estate and other investments. Sign documents that say you want them to go into your trust.
  4. Assuming everything is covered by your will or trust – Many types of assets, such as bank accounts, retirement plans, real estate and insurance policies, are transferred to named beneficiaries—who may or may not be people named in your will. To make sure things are in sync and safeguard estate tax savings, coordinate property ownership documents and beneficiary designations with will planning.
  5. Giving in the wrong amount or form – Bequeathing all your children the same amount of money or same type of inheritance may be equal, but not equitable. For example, if one child has special needs and you give him/her a sizable inheritance, he/she may lose valuable medical or social security benefits. Likewise, if you have a business that some of your children participate in, consider leaving the business only to them and non-business assets to the other children. This will keep peace in the family, while helping to ensure the business remains stable and profitable.

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail—in this instance, by failing to pass on as much wealth as possible to your loved ones and “gifting” your hard-earned assets to Uncle Sam.

Be smart and perpetuate your estate for generations to come. Approach estate planning as an ongoing process to ensure you benefit from laws that can keep you financially independent and shield your estate from needless taxes.

Call an experienced estate planning attorney, put things in motion and—above all else–follow through! We want YOU to determine who gets what from your estate, how and when, and for the lowest possible cost.

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