In 2018, the federal estate tax exemption will be $5.6 million for an individual. An estate worth more than that will need to file a return with the IRS. Therefore, that number may be the baseline when it comes to estate tax planning. However, those who are under that threshold may still benefit from having an estate plan. Without one, an individual may have less control over where his or her assets go after death.
It is also possible that assets will sit in limbo while courts decide what is to be done with them. Court costs and other fees may result in less going to beneficiaries. Two ways to avoid such uncertainty is to name beneficiaries and to keep as many assets out of an estate as possible. Beneficiaries can generally be named for assets such as retirement or bank accounts.
Sending money or other assets out of an estate may be done by giving to charity or making contributions to a grandchild's education fund. It may also be possible to put assets into a trust that is held outside of an estate. Generally speaking, an individual gets better tax treatment by putting assets into irrevocable trusts. This may mean giving up control of an asset even if that person still gets to use or benefit from it.
Estate planning may involve a variety of different tasks such as creating a will or naming a beneficiary to an asset. In addition to wills and trusts, other estate planning documents can include financial and health care powers of attorney and living wills. An experienced lawyer can often assist in their preparation.