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Guiding the family: the need for a sensible, updated estate plan

"[Y]ou really want to guide the family as best you can."

That is the bottom-line advice given by one adviser, who counsels that a sound and effective estate planning scheme makes sense for virtually every family, regardless of where it resides on the wealth spectrum.

Although different families will of course have varied needs, a workable plan that has duly contemplated and provided for contingencies is the ultimate tool for reducing uncertainty, preserving assets and providing for future peace of mind.

Foregoing that exercise or only attending to it marginally, or failure to revisit matters occasionally with an experienced estate planning attorney and making necessary adjustments, can have both material consequences that are seen immediately and rippling effects for generations.

For some families, concerns might center most fundamentally on the exemption provided for in the federal tax on estates, and the tax rate above that threshold. They might also be concerned by exemptions and taxes associated with gifting. Changes flowing earlier this year from the newly passed American Taxpayer Relief Act are relevant to such considerations and can be explained by a proven asset-protection attorney.

For other families (the great majority, for whom the $5.25 million threshold exemption on estates and the 40 percent tax rate above it are simply not relevant), many other considerations are quite valid and should be followed through on.

Those include making a will and keeping it updated to reflect changed family circumstances. Ensuring that all beneficiary designations are correct for instruments such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts is also of great importance. So, too, can be an understanding of when and how one or more trusts might be optimally employed to preserve and hold assets, provide for family members and ensure maximum privacy.

Many other factors can also apply in a given case. An estate plan that focuses upon and appropriately responds to all relevant considerations can be an inestimably important tool for promoting family interests now and in the future.

Source: Source: The New York Times, "Estate planning remains a moving target under the new tax law," Paul Sullivan, April 26, 2013

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