When evaluating the best way to transfer wealth or to provide for heirs, many issues must be considered in order to ensure that the maximum estate value is transferred, while satisfying legal, tax, income, total cost and the desired timing of the asset transfer.
As part of selecting the estate planning strategy and solutions that best suit your needs, consider the types of heirs involved and the size of the estate itself.
In estates involving stepchildren, a Will may have disadvantages if an unequal distribution of the assets exists among heirs and beneficiaries.
A Trust may be more advantageous and a less costly asset transfer solution when stepchildren are also heirs from other natural or stepparents. In those cases, there may be valid reasons for an unequal distribution of estate assets. A Trust may provide for greater protection against attempts to modify or contest, and may lower the total costs of wealth transfer compared to the probate process.
A Will or one of the various types of Trusts can provide for natural or adopted children. If there is only one child, or if the estate is relatively small, and below the Federal lifetime exemption limits, a Will can be a satisfactory tool to transfer wealth to heirs, particularly if the estate is to be divided equally and the likelihood of attempts by creditors or disgruntled heirs to modify or invalidate the Will is low.
While a Last Will and Testament must go through the lengthy Probate and Estate Administration process, it can be a low-cost solution for wealth transfer. A Trust has the advantage of generally not being subject to Probate, and is more resistant to Trust contest attempts to modify or invalidate it due to it typically being more comprehensive in nature by having specific provisions for debts, creditors, taxes, and specific asset transfer provisions.
Some situations occur where an heir, a child or other beneficiary may now or in the future become incapacitated and unable to manage their own financial affairs or life circumstances. In these cases, a close evaluation must be made for mental or physical disability, or spendthrift concerns (where the heir may have a pattern of unwise spending or foolish decision making regarding their assets). In such cases, a Trust may likely provide a stronger and surer solution to ensure that these heirs are provided for, yet have a greater resistance to contest or modification of the provisions made by the asset owner.
In the cases of high net worth estates and individuals, Trusts are often preferable due to their being more comprehensive in nature with regard to payment of debt and taxes, as well as being more resistant to Trust contest and quicker to administer than a Will in Probate. Although a Trust may be slightly more expensive to create than a Will, the end result is lower overall costs of wealth and asset transfer than a contested Will going through the Probate process.
Foundations are similar to Trusts in that they hold assets to provide future benefits to individuals or groups, typically within the scope of a specifically defined mission. They are typically charitable or political in nature and are generally set up by high net worth individuals and may be perpetual or designed to operate only for a specific period of time.