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ESTATE PLANNING isn’t the cheeriest of topics, but it’s one where a little care can help your family immensely—and some carelessness could cost them dearly. Here’s a look at some of the latest developments:

  • In 2019, the federal estate tax exclusion is $11.4 million. Even when the exclusion was half of today’s level, just one out of every 530 deaths triggered federal taxes.
  • As of 2019, 17 states and the District of Columbia have a state inheritance or estate tax. You can find a comprehensive list at sites such as McGuireWoods.com and Nolo.com.
  • The gift-tax exclusion is $15,000 in 2019, unchanged from 2018.
  • According to a 2016 Gallup survey, just 44% of U.S. adults have a will.
  • Fewer households will get a tax break for their charitable contributions, because their itemized deductions will be less than the new, higher standard deduction introduced by 2017’s tax law. What to do? Consider bunching two or three years of charitable contributions into a single year.
  • Households contribute some $2,500 a year, on average, to charities, according to statistics compiled by the National Philanthropic Trust. Giving USA says individuals account for 72% of all charitable gifts, followed by foundations (15%), bequests (8%) and corporations (5%).
  • Are you over age 70½ and interested in making charitable gifts? Qualified charitable distributions from an IRA were made a permanent part of the tax code at year-end 2015—and have become more attractive, thanks to the 2017 tax law, which boosted the standard deduction while curtailing itemized deductions.

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