As the 2016 presidential election enters its final weeks, those voters who have not already made up their minds will be studying the candidates' positions on various issues. Some voters in the Sacramento area may wonder if the federal estate tax should be an issue of concern. The answer, for all but the wealthiest California residents, is no.
Unfortunately, estate planning is not always taken as seriously as it should be or may not be considered at all. Failing to conduct any estate planning is the worst mistake that can be made and studies show that many Americans who have reached the age where they should have come up with an estate plan have not done so. There are several errors that can be made when estate planning, or failing to estate plan, so it can be useful to know what those mistakes are to avoid them.
The IRS has proposed new regulations that, if enacted, could drastically affect estate planning for small business owners and farmers in California's Central Valley. Under the new regulations, the long-established practice of discounting shares of a family-owned business, including an agricultural business, would be curtailed.
In this California estate planning blog, we've written many posts about the importance of having an estate plan and of not postponing the estate planning process. But the process isn't necessarily over when the will or trust has been drafted, signed and witnessed. Every estate plan should be reviewed periodically to make sure it is up to date, and still reflects the testator's wishes.
We all want what is best for our family; however, in order to accomplish such a task, we need to think about the future and the what-ifs. For some California residents, this process is not always easy, but the reality is that estate planning can accomplish essential and major decisions that individuals of all ages and families of all sizes need to make.
It's probably safe to say that the majority of people who prepare estate plans in California leave their children equal shares of their estate. But, is this always the best way to do it? Are there times when it is actually fairer to leave unequal shares to the kids, and perhaps even leave nothing to a child?
Many people in California know they should prepare an estate plan, but they put it off. There are a lot of reasons people postpone estate planning. Some think it will be a lot of work, some believe they are too busy and some avoid it because they don't like to think about the fact that someday they will not be around anymore.
In California, when someone dies without a will or trust their property is distributed according to the state's intestacy laws. If there is a surviving spouse, it all goes to him or her. If not, it goes to children in equal shares, with the share of any deceased child going to their children. If there are no children, the estate goes to parents, then to siblings and then to more distant relatives, in that order. Thus, a person who dies without a will or trust runs the risk that their assets will go to people they wouldn't have chosen themselves, including relatives to whom they haven't spoken in decades.
Many people in California postpone estate planning for the simple reason that they don't like to think about their own mortality. That is very human and totally understandable. Yet it is important to keep in mind that a solid estate plan is about much more than giving instructions for the distribution of property after death. A good estate plan will also includes important planning for one's own lifetime.
The death of music legend Prince at the age of 57 earlier this month took many people in California and around the world by surprise. Another surprise may be in store for his family members: at the time this post was prepared, it was still unclear whether he left a will. His sister filed papers in court recently stating the musician had no known will and requesting that a special administrator be appointed to oversee his estate.