Estate planning is the legal structuring of current and projected assets for future disposition. The process assures estate holders that all their assets and properties would be in safe hands after their demise, only to benefit their families and loved ones. A mulled-over estate plan helps a person to minimize taxes imposed on all the assets after his or her death. Additional advantages brought to the table by an efficient estate plan includes providing benefits for survivors and determining the flow of assets. The estate planning pyramid is to ensure you have an effective estate plan in place.
Estate planning pyramid
The estate planning pyramid, consisting of six distinct levels, aids in developing a precise estate plan. Each level in the estate planning pyramid addresses a different necessity.
Aimed at providing basic protections, the first level is ideal for singles with few assets and no successors. A typical level 1 estate planning pyramid includes:
Anatomical gift instrument – This allows a hospital, charity or a non-profit organization to use organs and other body parts.
Health care proxy, a.k.a. medical directives, or medical powers of attorney – It allows the appointment of people who can make health care decisions when the person is not capable of doing so himself.
Living will – This document states whether the holder requires heroic means to prolong life or not.
In addition to all the norms in Level 1, this level of estate planning pyramid adds a durable power of attorney. The documents grant authority to an appointed individual to manage all financial affairs of the person in his/her absence or if he/she becomes incapacitated. Level 2 is ideal for individuals in committed relationships.
Level 3 introduces the concept of will and guardian. This level is considered best for those with children. This level includes:
- Beneficiary designations and ownership
- Control over assets
- Flow of assets
- Life insurance which provides death benefits to fill the gap between assets required to maintain the original lifestyle of survivors and the actual assets available.
- Personal representative or executor
- Providing for survivors – This helps maintain the same standard of living of dependents, including kids and spouse.
With the introduction of trust, Level 4 of estate planning pyramid addresses the issue of planning the best state taxes plans. This level is ideal for those having a combined estate of $1mn, along with the estate of their spouse and other beneficiaries.
This level addresses estate taxes in addition to the state taxes. Level 5 allows the unused portion of estate tax credit of a deceased spouse to pass on to the estate of the surviving spouse and also allows the creation of sub-trusts, such as a life insurance trust.
Rarely used, Level 6 of estate planning pyramid is a complex form of estate planning aimed at minimizing federal, state, and estate taxes through multiple generations. This level includes:
- Other entities
- 529 Plans