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Estate Planning For Seniors

Reviewed by: MySeniorCare Staff
Last Updated: 4/13/2010 3:23:31 PM

Estate planning is not a process intended exclusively for the wealthy, nor should it be left unaddressed until an illness or injury raises the subject of mortality. Everyone should consider estate planning, regardless of how much money they have stored in the bank or how many possessions they have amassed over the years.

Unfortunately, estate planning is complicated and the laws surrounding this process are numerous. To effectively navigate the minutiae, it helps to have in your corner an attorney who specializes in this area. He or she can help you make decisions and can open up new avenues you might otherwise not have known existed.

Taxes

Perhaps the most important aspect of estate planning is the taxes that will either be paid by you or by your heirs. The tax law surrounding estates is complex, but your attorney can help you set up trusts that can avoid some of the most cumbersome taxes involved. For example, SmartMoney.com recommends irrevocable trusts to help bypass some of the taxes assigned to estates.

Included Property

Your estate, according to SmartMoney.com, includes your personal belongings, investments, money in the bank, property, jointly-owned property, retirement benefits and anything else that is considered an asset. Effective estate planning means making a list of all these assets so you can decide what you want to do with them upon your death.

This is why estate planning is important for all seniors, regardless of how much they are worth. Not only do you need to consider your financial assets, but also included are your personal belongings, such as cars, furniture, art and jewelry. This also includes intellectual property, such as the royalties from a patent you registered or a book you wrote.

Wills & Trusts

The two primary ways in which seniors can distribute their property in estate planning are wills and trusts. A last will and testament is a document that assigns your assets to specific individuals, such as your spouse and children. Trusts, on the other hand, are exempt from probate. According to the Cornell University Law School, a trust "is a right in property (real or personal) which is held in a fiduciary relationship by one party for the benefit of another." In other words, the trustee controls the property while the beneficiary receives it.

There are numerous types of trusts that seniors can set up through the process of estate planning, some of which can be changed or altered later if, for example, new family members are born or if you change your mind.

Charitable Gifts

In addition to family members, estate planning can also prepare gifts for charitable organizations or for institutions that you would like to receive part of your estate. For example, many seniors plan to give money to their alma maters or to their favorite charities. This can be handled either via the last will and testament or via a trust.

Inter Vivos Gifts

As mentioned above, taxes can take an enormous chunk of your assets in estate planning, which is why some seniors choose to give inter vivos gifts, which are gifts that are bequeathed while the giver is still alive. In other words, it is possible to distribute some of your real or personal property to friends and family members before your death. Gifts under a certain amount (it varies by state) may not be subject to taxes.

Estate planning is often an unpleasant process, but it is necessary if you want to ensure your assets are handled appropriately upon your death. Caregivers can help their loved ones with estate planning, and ensure their loved ones understand how the process works.

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