Women often become guardians of family wealth. Many women outlive their spouses, and have the opportunity to have the “final say” (from an estate planning standpoint) about the wealth they have built or inherited. Legacy planning is essential for single women and couples, too, as one or two successful careers may leave a woman or a couple with a significant estate.
So how do you take steps to convey the bulk of your wealth to the next generation, or to your favorite causes or charities after you are gone? It all starts with a conversation today – a conversation with a legacy planning professional.
Analyze the risks to your net worth & strategize to alleviate them. You have years to go, perhaps many years, before you pass away. In those years or decades, you must manage portfolio risk, taxation, medical or long term care costs, and perhaps “predators and creditors” as well. What tax and risk management strategies can be put into place with an eye toward enhancing your net worth? Can you reduce the size of your taxable estate along the way?
How might trusts come into play? If you want to shrink your taxable estate, a well-crafted trust may provide a way to do it. There are many, many different kinds of trusts. A basic revocable living trust helps a family avoid probate, but it doesn’t do anything to reduce estate taxes. Other trusts do offer grantors and beneficiaries opportunities for substantial estate and/or income tax savings.1
For example, you can bequeath an amount of money up to the limit of the current estate tax exemption to a bypass trust; at your death, the remainder of your estate can therefore transfer to your spouse tax-free, or optionally your spouse can enjoy income from the trust while living with your heirs receiving the remaining principal tax-free at his or her death. Blended families sometimes choose to use a qualified terminable interest property trust (QTIP) plus a bypass trust to direct income derived from assets within an estate to a surviving spouse and then the bulk of the estate to their children and stepchildren. Grandparents sometimes use generation-skipping trusts (GSTs) to forward big chunks of money tax-free to grandchildren.
Women business owners have employed irrevocable life insurance trusts (ILITs) to shrewdly remove their life insurance from their taxable estates. In an ILIT, the trust becomes the owner of the life insurance policy. When the business owner passes away, the beneficiaries receive tax-free policy proceeds, which can be used to sustain the family business and pay estate costs.
A qualified personal residence trust (QPRT) will permit you to gift your primary residence or vacation home to your children while you retain control of it for the term of the trust (typically 10 years). If your home seems poised to rise in value, the QPRT may lead to major gift and estate tax savings – it helps you transfer the home out of your taxable estate, thereby reducing its size. The hitch is that to validate the QPRT, you have to outlive the term of trust. Assuming you do, you can either a) move out of your house at that point or b) keep living in it while paying your heirs fair market rent as a tenant.
How well can your legacy plan sustain your values? Can you design it to teach your adult children and grandchildren lessons in character, responsibility, ethics and social service? Philanthropically, what do you want to accomplish? If you want to direct wealth to charities or other non-profits, you will need to pick one or more vehicles with the help of a legacy planner – options may include a family foundation, a charitable remainder trust (CRT), a tax-deductible charitable gift of appreciated securities with a resulting income stream, or donor-advised funds. A conversation with a tax professional can inform you of the kinds of assets you do and don’t want to gift from a taxation perspective.
As you craft your legacy plan, can you do it at reasonable cost? There is truth in the old maxim “you get what you pay for”, but at the same time, you want to work with a legacy planner whose fees aren’t exorbitant. Even the fees for creating a simple living trust can vary widely. You definitely want the help of experienced professionals here; given that each legacy plan is on some level an agreement with the federal tax code, legacy planning is not a do-it-yourself project.
Your legacy plan can represent your final, thoughtful gift to your loved ones. When you think of it that way, it becomes easier to conceive and implement with the input of your spouse, your children and your grandchildren. Along the way, valuable money lessons can be taught and responsibilities shouldered.