J. Kelly Kennedy, Attorney/CPA, PLLC

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Smart estate planning means thinking about estate administration

Florida doesn't have an estate tax, and the federal estate tax only applies to estates worth more than $5.25 million, so many Floridians feel that they don't need to think very much about how to best arrange their assets to go to their heirs and beneficiaries. But many kinds of families can benefit from good estate planning and estate administration.

In recent years, much of the talk about estate planning has centered on the federal estate tax. The level of the exemption kept rising, so that the tax applied only to larger and larger estates. In 2010, it disappeared, meaning that no estates were hit with the federal estate tax for most of that year. It soon returned, but only for estates worth more than $5 million. The latest federal tax laws supposedly made the higher levels permanent, but there is already talk about lowering the exemption level again.

Because of all this uncertainty, many wealthier families have set up trusts to manage their assets after they go. Trusts have powerful advantages when it comes to tax responsibilities, but they do require a lot of planning when setting them up and administration later on.

Another advantage of trusts, such as living trusts, is that they keep a family's assets out of the public record. A will can provide inheritances for family, friends and other beneficiaries, but it must go through probate court, where it generally becomes public record. Many families would prefer that knowledge of their assets remain private.

However, Florida families who want to use trusts or other instruments to preserve their assets for future generations should be careful selecting trustees and administrators. The best estate plan in the world today is only as good as the trustees and administrators who will manage it in the future.

Source: New York Times, "Estate Planning Remains a Moving Target Under the New Tax Law," Paul Sullivan, April 26, 2013

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