The subject of how best to pass along your accumulated wealth at death is usually referred to as "estate planning" by lawyers, accountants, and other professional planners. You may see the word "estate," think of something out of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," and decide, "Well, at least that is something that I don't have to worry about." Not so fast! Even if you presently have only rather modest wealth, you're probably a candidate for at least some basic estate planning. And your ownership of a small business only increases the likelihood that you will have an estate planning need.
Estate planning is closely related to financial planning; that is, the process of attaining your lifetime money-based goals through sound planning and decision-making. In fact, you might think of it as beginning where financial planning leaves off.
It's important to remember that, although the estate planning process is primarily concerned with passing along your wealth at death, to be effective, it requires your lifetime participation. You may have the most experienced and savvy probate lawyer and the most competent and trustworthy executor, but the money-saving and tax-saving opportunities that they will be able to use for your heirs' benefit will be limited unless you have done some planning during your lifetime to achieve this result.
So what are some of the benefits that you (and your heirs) can gain from a carefully thought-out estate plan? Here are some of them:
- Passing along your wealth at death to whomever you want to receive it in a way that avoids delay, and minimizes asset shrinkage due to probate and transfer costs.
- Passing along your business to heirs, or selling it to employees, competitors, or others.
- Minimizing estate taxes: passing along your wealth in a way that minimizes the amount that the tax collector can grab before anything goes to your heirs.
- Accomplishing your goals at a reasonable cost, without tying your property up with needless restrictions.