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Moving beyond the old model of estate tax planning

In decades past, individuals who were seeking estate planning guidance were told that there are three basic places where one can leave their assets upon death: family, charity or taxes. This approach defined the overall estate planning process for many years, but it does little to meet the needs of today's clients. Many New Jersey residents want to make their estate plan about more than the simple passing of assets to family members and reducing their estate tax burden.

For one thing, changes in estate taxation mean that most married couples can pass on over $10 million in assets free from any form of estate tax. Singles enjoy only half of that allowance, which is still a considerable amount of wealth to leave behind and more than many individuals need to be concerned with. There are still certain tax considerations to be made, such as whether a move to another state would provide a substantial tax benefit. However, taxation matters do not usually take center stage within the estate planning process of the average person.

In terms of passing assets to family members, this too has shifted over the decades. Today, individuals may wish to leave wealth to people with whom they share no blood or marital ties. Some want to ensure that their life partner is able to receive the bulk of their assets, while others wish to leave gifts to friends or business partners. Ensuring that such intentions are fulfilled requires careful estate planning, so that the ultimate distribution of wealth is not left to a probate court to determine.

Finally, charitable giving remains a significant focus within the estate planning process. However, the scope of charitable giving has changed, and there are far more options available for those who wish to make such gifts. Individuals can create a variety of trusts to ensure that the organizations they choose will benefit from the intended gifts.

As American society has changed, so have the services that estate planning attorneys can offer. Individuals and families in New Jersey and elsewhere can create a customized estate plan that ensures assets will pass to the intended heirs and that charitable giving is also possible. This can all be accomplished within a strategy that reduces any applicable estate tax obligations.

Source: wealthmanagement.com, "Beyond the Traditional Estate Planning 'Choices'", Patricia Angus, March 26, 2015

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