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Estate Planning In Seven Simple Steps

Make it your goal to pass on your
values as well as your valuables


Direct your money as you wish, when you wish

You have the opportunity to direct your money that will otherwise be forfeit as taxes. This is money that would not go to your family, business, or favorite causes; but will be lost in the powerful currents of political special interests.

Plan and give to good causes that support your views, not just institutions that ask for money. You can also draft documents to enforce your goals and prevent mission drift from derailing your philanthropic intentions. For major gifts you can even set up your own foundations rather than accepting unrestricted planned giving.

Where to start?

Initially create a will with specific gifts to individuals and charities, and leave a residuary bequest (anything left) to a particularly worthy cause. This easy solution can reflect your values far better than any bureaucratic settlement by decree. This simple will can become your outline for planned giving and estate planning.


Here are your *Seven Rules Of Estate Planning:


1) Get started right now!

The action of writing or updating a will helps frame your intent for more detailed plans. For instance, just one added sentence can ensure care for a family member with special needs. If delayed, planning may never happen.

Create a simple will now and it becomes easier to draft subsequent plans. Later you and your adviser can personalize giving plans and correlate them with wealth and capital management based on this first document.


2) Review even simple plans every few years, and after every major life change.

Too often spouses and families encounter damaging court battles over estate issues that could have been resolved in advance. Get heirs and representatives of bequests and planned giving endowments involved early in the estate planning process - this will eliminate many misunderstandings.


3) Use of qualified professionals is encouraged, but is not enough.

These are paid salesman and counselors, don't go with the first opinion you hear, learn as much as you can, decide for yourself. While tax considerations may have importance - your philanthropic giving should always reflect your intent. Focus primarily on your gift giving goals - not on changing nuances of law.


4) There are frequently changes in estate tax treatment.

In the US major changes are now scheduled to occur 01 Jan 2011. With IRS "look back rules" you should be planning for these changes now. Trusts of various types allow both control and ease of change as circumstances change. Any estate analysis you have done should address these issues.


5) Gifts made while you are alive have many benefits.

You get to see them used, you might acquire current tax deductions, and up to certain limits they are not taxable to individuals such as your kids and grand kids. Money given now is a pleasure you can direct and enjoy, and leaves less of an estate to run afoul of drifting estate tax laws. This is also a good time to get personally involved with charity.


6) Company pension plans, and government approved retirement plans, should be analyzed with your overall estate.

You can designate beneficiaries now, including those you care about, colleges, organizations and religious groups you support. There are legal provisions to sign over a retirement account now for tax benefits, ask your estate tax professionals if this applies to you.


7) Consider insurance policies to defray costs of estate transfer.

A life insurance policy may best be owned outside of the estate. While there may be no income tax, there will probably be estate tax if it is calculated within the assets to be distributed. I would recommend talking to an estate tax attorney and/or accountant rather than an insurance salesman to get current information.


Not another rule, but the following is still important.

Where you live will have a major impact on your efforts to gain and protect wealth. Estate taxes vary widely so where you live can also greatly effect your legacy. Bureaucrats would love to be able to use your wealth for their pork projects, you can act to stop them. Consider re-locating to a less hostile environment. You can probably live as well or better, and have more control of your assets, in a location you select.

Charitable planned gifts can take many forms including cash, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, real estate, art, retirement accounts, or even personal property. Appreciated assets may be structured to give you full use, and automatically transfer as a planned gift in the future. These future donations may yield current tax benefits, and still give you the comfort of life long physical control. And there is so much more ...

That was simple enough. Estate Planning is not a complicated process.

Your selected worthy cause will probably have pages to print or a download form to help you define your gifts. Ours is available for you to look at (and copy) if you click on The BFU College Contribution Form.

You will be able to pass on all or most of your estate to those people and ideals you cherish most - if you plan ahead. Start today writing that will, work through the rest as you can.

If you don't plan, someone else will decide what happens to your life's work. Their estate plan for you may reflect values opposed to all you hold dear.


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some philanthropy beat news:

As of 2006 the federal estate tax exemption was $2,000,000, and was legislated to increase in steps to $3,500,000 in 2009. The highest federal estate tax rate was 46% in 2006 and was designed to decrease in 2007 and disappear from 1 Jan 2010 until 31 Dec 2010. In a big bang on 01 Jan 2011 the death tax will be reinstated with a federal estate tax exemption of $1,000,000 and a maximum estate tax rate of 55%. Congress can change estate taxes and estate tax laws at any time - but they will always want more of the assets you developed. Check with your advisors to discover where estate tax is pegged, right now, where you live. Set up an estate plan, revise it with each life change.



*While the seven general rules for estate planning are important, there will be some that may not hold true where you live. This is general information and is not meant to be personalized legal, financial, or estate planning advice -- for that you will want to seek personal advisers.

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