Without proper estate planning, your eventual incapacity or death can result in a number of expenses and possible taxes that could otherwise be minimized. Here's a rundown of some of the common ones that come up:
One of the primary reasons that California residents create an estate plan is to avoid the time and expense of probate. Often through a simple vehicle such as a revocable living trust, you can develop a uniform plan that can eliminate the cost, publicity, time, and intrusiveness of a probate proceeding.
Real Property Taxes
California residents enjoy the benefit of "Proposition 58" which is a law that relates to transfers of real property from parent(s) to child(ren). Under this law parents are able to transfer their personal residence and up to $1,000,000 in assessed real property (during life or at death) to their children without having the transferred real estate be reassessed for real property tax purposes. In simple terms, children are able to pay the same low property taxes that their parents paid. Without proper planning, however, parents may be unwittingly giving up this benefit.
As of the date of this writing, the estate tax exemption amount (in simple terms, the amount of assets you can transfer to others without incurring estate tax) is just north of $11 million dollars. As a result, few people currently face this issue. However, this exemption amount is scheduled to go back down to approximately $5.5 million on January 1, 2026, which could bring many more people into taxable territory. Certain estate planning techniques can be used to defer the payment of estate taxes.
Where appropriate, a competent estate planning lawyer will undoubtedly explain possible income tax consequences as well. For example, use of retirement assets to fund charitable gifts or an explanation of the "cost-basis" adjustment of your assets at the time of death, are both important considerations that you should know about. In addition, some types of trust structures may require ongoing income tax filings (and the expenses associated with tax preparation) that you should know about.
Generation Skipping Transfer Tax
A different type of tax exists for special types of transfers that "skip" a generation. For clients with large estates (generally those that will face estate tax) this is often an important topic to visit.
Although not a "tax" in the traditional sense, it bears noting that when an individual dies without an estate plan, it can often throw families into disarray and cause them to engage a lawyer who then must sift through all of the decedent's information to figure out who gets what and what types of liabilities existed. Proper estate planning can allow families to minimize the legal process after your death since there will be a set of instructions on how exactly your estate is to be managed and/or distributed. Moreover, if you've worked with a lawyer, he or she most likely has a sense for the types of assets that you own and can often be a guide in the post-death administration process.
Many people fear the cost of establishing an estate plan, but when faced with the multitude of possible expenses of not having an estate plan, generally, the question is "can you afford not to have an estate plan?"