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Estate Planning 101

Posted on August 17, 2020 by

Margaret Amsden

Margaret Amsden

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With all of the change the past few years, now is an ideal time to revisit your estate plan.

Estate planning, as defined by Black’s Law Dictionary, is “That branch of the law which, in arranging a person’s property and estate, takes into account the laws of wills, taxes, insurance, property, and trust so as to gain maximum benefit of all laws while carrying out the person’s own wishes for the disposition of his property upon his death.”

This is a very broad definition and quickly identifies that there are many disciplines that need to be considered to make sure that the estate plan addresses all the issues. It also helps to point out that preparing and implementing a plan will likely require the services of:

  • A lawyer
  • An accountant
  • An insurance and/or financial advisor

Why do I need estate planning?

Overall, estate planning assures that an individual’s wishes are carried out upon death. This includes making sure that whoever is designated can:

  • Access and manage assets
  • Distribute assets to specified beneficiaries
  • Avoid probate
  • Hold assets for beneficiaries whom are minors

A tax perspective

Generally, it is the estate that is left upon death that may be subject to tax. As a result, an important part of estate planning is to minimize the tax burden on the estate and maximize the remainder that will go to the heirs. During the planning process, it is also important to consider the mix of assets held in the estate and plan for liquidity in the event that taxes must be paid.

Implications before and after death

In the process of preparing an estate plan, many of the documents included address legal decisions, medical decisions, and management of assets during the individual’s lifetime if one becomes incapacitated, as well as addressing these issues after ones death. As a result, some of the tools included in an estate plan include:

  • Durable Power of Attorney for Property
  • Durable Power of Attorney for healthcare/living will/advanced directive
  • Last will and Testament
  • Revocable Living Trust
  • Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust
  • Marital and/or Family Trust

This is not a full listing of the potential estate planning vehicles, but rather a list of some of the more commonly used documents.

Implications for international clients

Planning is also applicable to individuals who are non-resident citizens, non-citizen residents, or are married to someone who is either a non-resident or a non-citizen. The rules are just a bit more complicated, and tax minimization takes more planning.

The key points about estate planning

  1. It needs to be done to provide for family.
  2. A team of professionals is recommended to address all elements.
  3. The plan is never fully “done” but, rather, should be revisited periodically to make sure it reflects changes in life circumstances and/or tax laws. Life circumstances may include marriage, divorce, the death of a spouse, the birth of a child, the progression of minors to adult children, income changes and more. Reviewing an estate plan every five years or less is recommended.

Contact Us

Clayton & McKervey has decades of experience in estate planning, working primarily with the owners of closely held, growth-driven businesses. Our team includes tax advisors connected to any service provider needed to complete the process. To learn more, click here to contact us.

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Margaret Amsden


Margaret leads the firm’s private client services group as the point person for individual, estate and succession planning tax strategies.

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