Estate Planning Accountant
The accounts at Cook CPAs can assist with all of your estate planning needs.
Estate planning on your own can be complicated and costly. And the list of potential concerns that can impact your planning goals is seemingly endless. State taxes, bureaucracy, probate courts, unfair appraisals, health care concerns, eligibility of heirs, life insurance, IRA’s, 401K’s, annuities, burial or cremation costs, and intent regarding death-postponing treatment are only a few of the concerns and considerations involved in estate planning. However, establishing an estate plan that protects your interests and goals is often essential. Unfortunately, attempting to go it alone when you have questions about your legal and financial rights often ends up costing you more in the end.
Common questions raised by potential clients can include: Could an heir be too young to inherit? Should the inheritance be given at a certain age? Is providing benefits to a person in a shaky marriage where divorce is a possibility a good idea? How will children from a previous marriage affect or complicate my plan? Should inheritance be protected from potential creditors of the heir? Are there taxes that can be avoided or legally minimized? Are you able to avoid the probate court rules, delays, and costs?
The CPAs and accounting professionals of the Cook CPA Group can assist you with these and any other questions you may have.
What Does Estate Planning Entail?
Estate planning involves the development of strategies for protecting your assets, distributing them according to your wishes, and otherwise providing for your family. A carefully developed estate plan can help you to accomplish many estate planning goals, such as the following:
- Provide for an orderly transfer of your property in accordance with your wishes.
- Minimize the taxes on your estate and maximize the inheritance for your beneficiaries.
- Provide for the special needs of family members.
- Ensure the continued operation of a family business.
- Appoint a guardian for minor children.
- Ensure the availability of cash to pay necessary taxes and administrative expenses.
- Bypass probate administration for your estate.
Planning what happens to your estate after you have passed on can seem frustrating and intimidating without qualified help. You may feel that you’re too young to care about estate planning. You might be tempted to put the whole thing off, assuming that it will just take care of itself. In all cases, estate planning ends up saving your family lots of time, heartache and money.
Do I Need a Will?
Every estate planning situation is different. In order to help you, we want to know you, your unique situation, and the nature of your relationships. However, many estate plans do include a will. In fact, when an estate plan includes a will, the will is often the most important aspect of the plan.
Writing a will protects your family and ensures that your wishes will be carried out. Anyone of legal age with any property should have a will. If you die without a will, or what is known as intestate, your estate will be distributed as determined by California state law and administered by someone appointed by a court. In addition, the court will decide who will care for your minor children. Dying intestate also can increase the tax burden for your heirs and cause dissension within your family. A will enables you to distribute your property as you wish, including personal property of sentimental value. A will can also allow you to:
- Provide for future management of investments or a family business.
- Designate guardians for your minor children.
- Select the person you want to distribute your estate.
- Minimize taxes and administration expenses in the settlement of your estate.
- Provide for special desires, such as charitable contributions.
What Other Planning or Devices Can Protect my Family?
Life insurance is an essential estate planning tool because it provides immediate cash for survivors. Since proceeds are readily available, life insurance protects your family from being forced to liquidate some of your other assets to meet living expenses. Life insurance can also help your survivors pay debts, including estate taxes. Generally, insurance proceeds go directly to the beneficiary and do not have to go through the probate process.
Gifts are also a traditional way to reduce an estate and the related taxes. You are allowed to make yearly tax-exempt annual exclusion gifts of up to $12,000 per recipient or up to $24,000 with your spouse’s consent. Making gifts in excess of the exclusion amounts will have an impact on the lifetime unified credit and gift and estate taxes. Reminder: Only gifts of a present interest qualify for the annual exclusion. A gift of a present interest is one that the donee has immediate access to.
What Is Probate?
Probate is the legal process of identifying and distributing your probate assets (any assets in your estate that are not transferred automatically or in trust) to the appropriate beneficiaries. If you have a will, the process includes proving that the will is valid and ensuring that assets are distributed according to its provisions. Otherwise, the probate court will oversee the distribution of your assets according to your state’s intestacy laws. The probate process is a matter of public record and can be costly and time-consuming. There are many estate planning strategies that enable you to avoid or bypass the probate process. These strategies typically involve providing for the transfer of your assets through joint ownership, trusts, or gifts while you are alive, instead of through a will. Although avoiding probate may be beneficial in terms of time, money and privacy, bypassing probate does not eliminate or reduce estate taxes.
How Long Does Settlement Take?
An estate not subject to probate may be settled relatively quickly. In contrast, a probate estate takes time to settle because there are so many variables involved. For example, creditors must be allowed an opportunity to come forward and file any claims. A simple estate may take three months to a year to settle; a complicated estate two to three years or more. However, in special circumstances, preliminary distributions may be made from your estate during the settlement process. Note that a complicated estate will typically have a lengthy settlement process.
Work with Estate Planners to Protect Your Goals and Wealth
At the Cook CPA Group, our financial professionals can help you develop a customized estate plan through the following steps:
- Clearly define your estate planning goals.
- Organize and create your estate planning team (experts on law, finance, and taxes) if you need one.
- Evaluate and recommend estate planning options.
- Prepare, organize and review your estate planning documents including current wills, trusts, health care and power of attorney.
- Minimize the problems and expenses associated with probate.
- Minimize estate and other taxes due.
- Arrange for management of your estate in the event you are incapacitated.
- Draft a working plan for conserving and effectively managing your estate after death.
- Transfer the assets of your estate to heirs the way you want.
- Organize fair and adequate liquidation of estate to cover taxes and other expenses.
- Amend your plan as needed.
The tax and financial professionals of the Cook CPA group are dedicated to providing sound, strategic advice in all estate planning matters.