Therefore, for most Americans the 2012 Tax Act has removed the emphasis on estate tax planning and put it back on the real reasons to do estate planning: taking care of ourselves and our families the way we want. Those who might be tempted to skip estate planning because their estates are less than the $5 million range should remember that proper estate planning provides peace of mind by allowing Americans which only have a $1 million tax exemption (16% estate tax on any non-spouse inheritance over $1 million without some tax planning) to:
- Avoid Maryland death taxes that have lower exemptions than federal taxes;
- Avoid probate, which can be expensive and time-consuming;
- Ensure their assets are distributed the way they want;
- Protect an inheritance from irresponsible spending, a child’s creditors, and from being part of a child’s divorce proceedings;
- Provide for a loved one with special needs without losing valuable government benefits;
- Retain control of their assets remains in the hands of a trusted person;
- Provide for minor children or grandchildren;
- Help protect assets from creditors and frivolous lawsuits (especially important for professionals);
- Protect themselves, their family and their assets in the event of incapacity; and
- Help create meaningful charitable gifts.
For those with larger estates, ample opportunities remain to transfer large amounts tax-free to future generations. But with the increase in estate and income tax rates, it is critical that professional planning begins as soon as possible. Also, with Congress looking for more ways to increase revenue, many reliable estate planning strategies may soon be restricted or eliminated. Thus, it is best to put these strategies into place now so that they are more likely to be grandfathered from future law changes.
For those who have been sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see what Congress would do, the wait is over. Now that we have some certainty with “permanent” laws, there is no excuse to postpone planning any longer.