Estate planning doesn't just mean doing a will. It means learning how property transfers with or without a will and making sure you have set up your financial affairs so that your property goes to the people or charities that are important to you.
There can also be some tax planning involved. Most people don't have to worry about Federal Estate Tax anymore since you don't pay taxes unless you have an estate over 5 million dollars. However Oregon still begins to charge estate taxes on estates of 1 million dollars or more. While that might sound like a lot for most of us, it can be reached when you add in any life insurance payable on your life to the equation when you die.
That's right, if you buy life insurance on your life the full amount is includable in your estate for estate tax assessment purposes. So if two spouses both have large life insurance policies, a home with a lot of equity, retirement and investment accounts, it is possible to pass the 1 million mark on paper and incur taxes when the second spouse dies. (There is no tax for property passed from one spouse to another).
There are some easy fixes particularly for married couples that can avoid a lot of estate taxes. I like to add a disclaimer trust into my Wills for married couples where the possibility of estate tax is uncertain. It is inexpensive to add this provision and the provision allows people to make an elections after the first spouse dies if they see the need to do some post-mortem planning to avoid estate taxes. The election puts some of the first spouses property into a trust where it can still be used to support the second spouse with some limitations, but the passage into the trust allows the first spouses exemptions from estate tax to apply to that property which would have been lost if the property went directly to the second spouse before passing to the children. Clients with this clause to need some instruction on how to maintain the title of their properties so that it is possible to make the election but it isn't too difficult once you understand some basic concepts.
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