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Taking Stock 

The first step in estate planning is to inventory everything you own and assign a value to each asset. Here's a list to get you started. You may need to delete some categories or add others. 

  • Residence 
  • Other real estate 
  • Savings (bank accounts, CDs, money markets) 
  • Investments (stocks, bonds, mutual funds) 
  • 401(k), IRA, pension and other retirement accounts 
  • Life insurance policies and annuities 
  • Ownership interest in a business 
  • Motor vehicles (cars, boats, planes) 
  • Jewelry 
  • Collectibles 
  • Other personal property 

Once you've estimated the value of your estate, you're ready to do some planning. Keep in mind that estate planning is not a one-time job. There are a number of changes that may call for a review of your plan. Take a fresh look at your estate plan if: 

  • The value of your assets changes significantly. 
  • You marry, divorce or remarry. 
  • You have a child. 
  • You move to a different state. 
  • The executor of your will or the administrator of your trust dies or becomes incapacitated, or your relationship with that person changes significantly.  
  • One of your heirs dies or has a permanent change in health. 
  • The laws affecting your estate change. 

How Estates Are Taxed 

Federal gift and estate tax law permits each taxpayer to transfer a certain amount of assets free from tax during his or her lifetime or at death. (In addition, as discussed in the next section, certain gifts valued at $11,000 or less can be made that are not counted against this amount.) The amount of money that can be shielded from federal estate or gift taxes is determined by the federal applicable credit. The credit is used during your lifetime when you make certain taxable gifts, and the balance, if any, can be used by your estate after your death. 

Keep in mind that while you can plan to minimize taxes, your estate may still have to pay some federal estate taxes. What's more, your estate may be subject to state estate or inheritance taxes, which are beyond the scope of this pamphlet. An estate planning professional can provide more information regarding state taxes. 

Minimizing Estate Taxation 

There are a number of estate planning methods that can be used to minimize federal taxes on your estate. 

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