WHEN IT COMES to estate planning, folks with taxable estates—that is, with assets in excess of $12 million—tend to fall into one of two camps. The first recognize that their estates will have to hand the IRS 40 cents out of every dollar above that $12 million threshold. They also know that this limit is scheduled to be cut in half in 2026 and could be even lower in the future. As a result,
IN THE EARLY 1990s, my employer—an aerospace manufacturer—sent a small group of employees to Winnipeg, Canada, to help set up a production line. We were chosen because of our familiarity with the product involved.
The company provided us with a furnished apartment, a rental car and $40 a day for food. They flew us back home every two weeks, so we could take care of personal business. I’d fly to Los Angeles on Friday and return to Winnipeg on Monday.
ROUGHLY A QUARTER of my investment portfolio sits in three Roth retirement accounts. Ever since I first funded a Roth a dozen years ago, I’ve thought of this as money I’d avoid spending for as long as possible, so I milk maximum gain from the tax-free growth. But lately, it’s dawned on me that it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever dip into these accounts—and that realization has triggered a slew of investment decisions.
My three Roth accounts are all at Vanguard Group.
THE SECURE ACT, which took effect Jan. 1, 2020, made inheriting an IRA even more complicated. Before 2020, beneficiaries typically had the option of taking distributions from an inherited IRA over their lifetime, potentially squeezing many more years of tax-favored growth from these accounts.
The SECURE Act drew a new line, eliminating some beneficiaries’ ability to make use of the so-called stretch IRA. Beneficiaries now are divided into two groups. Some have to empty an inherited IRA within 10 years of the original owner’s death.
LIFE IS EXPENSIVE—especially for young adults contending with budget busters like housing and tuition. If you have adult children facing these expenses and want to help them financially, you may be wondering what’s the best approach. While every family is different, below are three principles that I’ve seen work well.
1. Transparency. This applies in several ways. First, you should let your children know your objectives for these gifts. Do you want to see them spend it on something specific—such as a home down payment—or are they free to use it as they see fit?
SIX YEARS AGO, a colleague came into my office, looking concerned. He asked if I could speak with a client who was suffering from dementia. At the time, I was the Army’s attorney in charge of legal assistance at Fort Hood, Texas. One of the services we provided was drafting wills for servicemembers, veterans and their families.
For our legal office, my policy was that I’d always be the person to deliver bad news.
WANT THE LAST WORD? Write your own obituary.
It’s the final opportunity to tell the world you were a great person and that others should regret never having known you. You can write what you want because, in most newspapers, the obituaries are essentially paid ads—and pricey, to boot. No one is going to challenge your obituary’s veracity, at least not publicly, unless it’s outrageous.
Was she really well liked by everyone she met?
“A YEAR TO LIVE.” That’s the name of a class I’ve been teaching on and off for the past 20 years. My hope: Participants will gain more understanding, acceptance and peace about one of life’s few guarantees—death. This year’s class members have a little over five months left to live.
Every group is a little different. Some people resist the practicalities of preparing for death: putting things in writing, making medical and funeral arrangements,
MY ANDROID RANG on a sunny Saturday afternoon. The screen said it was from a police station. Hesitating, I took the call. My biracial son came on.
“I’m going to jail, Mom. But I didn’t do it.”
Instant memories, almost 50 years old, of police guns pointing at my African husband’s head and mine. Wrong profile of an interracial couple. It wasn’t us. Checking IDs, they realized we weren’t the suspects sought.
With my son’s phone call,
EVERYTHING I KNOW about estate planning I learned in court.
As part of my litigation practice, I represent parties—often warring family members—involved in disputes over wills, trusts and family businesses. These disputes have common themes that teach important lessons about financial planning in general and estate planning in particular.
Driving these disputes is the enormous transfer of wealth—trillions of dollars—from the Greatest Generation to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Couple that wealth transfer with other demographic trends,
SHOULD LEAVING money to our children be a formal part of our financial strategy—or should we focus on our own wants and needs, and let the chips fall where they may?
My wife and I have four children ages 45 to 50. They’re all married and, between them, have 13 children ages five to 17. They’re also all college graduates, with almost the entire cost paid by my wife and me. Three have master’s degrees.
YOUR ESTATE PLAN specifies what you want done with your money and possessions after your death. But your life’s treasures extend beyond these material items—to your values, heritage, relationships, hopes, dreams, memories and stories. You can share some of this with family and friends through a legacy letter, sometimes called an “ethical will.”
Not long before my mother died, she wrote her legacy letter. She asked that it be read during her memorial service.
A FEW YEARS BACK, I found myself in the emergency room, thinking I had a serious condition. As I sat there, I worried about my family, including my wife and young children. If I didn’t come home, would my wife have a clear picture of our finances?
Fortunately, the health scare turned out to be a false alarm, but it was a wakeup call. Sure, I had an estate plan, but I realized that a binder full of legalese wasn’t enough.
IF YOU DESIGNATE beneficiaries for your retirement accounts, that’s usually a surefire way to pass those assets directly to your desired heirs without going through probate—but not always.
Because those beneficiary designations are so important, you should verify your choices every year in case there’s a change due to, say, marriage, birth, divorce or death. Especially marriage and divorce. Which brings me to a crucial issue: When dealing with IRA and 401(k) beneficiary designations,
I’VE BEEN INVOLVED in settling five estates. They ranged from insolvent to almost seven figures. Some were well-organized, but one took significant time and effort to settle. These experiences taught me a key lesson: An organized and easily understood estate is a gift to those you leave behind.
I’m not an estate planning attorney. I’ve dealt with a few and found them to be professional, empathetic and helpful. If you have a complicated financial life or family situation,