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Beware DIY Estate Planning

Small Business Monthly

It can be tempting to consider handling estate planning responsibilities on your own. This month in the Small Business Monthly “Financial Fitness” column, Karen Stern, Partner in Charge of the Brown Smith Wallace Entrepreneurial Services Group, discusses some estate planning ideas to discuss with your tax advisor.

Estate planning seems like it should be simple. Many online services advertise quick, automated ways to generate wills and other documents. You know what you want to happen to your money; shouldn’t you be able to state your wishes and be done? Unfortunately, estate planning is much more complicated.

Rules governing the execution of wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents are not the same everywhere. How many witnesses and what type are necessary to attest to a will? Who can act as a witness? A qualified advisor can assist with maximizing the benefits you pass on to your family, friends, or favorite charitable organizations.

Here are a few ideas to discuss with your advisor:

  • Portability election: On a timely filed estate tax return, a deceased spouse’s executor can make a portability election. Doing so allows the surviving spouse to apply the deceased spouse’s unused estate and gift tax exemption amount toward his or her own transfers. For a reasonable cost, you essentially purchase “insurance” against future estate taxes by preserving the deceased spouse’s lifetime exemption.
  • Planning the sale of your business: You can maximize the value of your business and after-tax proceeds with proper planning, analysis and tax structuring before the sale. You want your books and records to be in good order. Explore what you can do to maximize the value of your business before putting it up for sale. Properly structure the deal to minimize taxes on the sale, which increases your after-tax proceeds from the sale.
  • Build flexibility into your plan: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) made significant changes to the federal tax code generating new estate planning opportunities. The estate and gift exemption for individual taxpayers was increased, as was the generation-skipping transfer (GST) tax exemption. Any estate planning strategies should take into consideration potential tax law changes. Tax laws are ever-changing though, so make sure your plan reflects your wants and needs – not just the current laws and economic situation.
  • Don’t make assumptions: Closely held businesses have complexities of their own that may arise, and individuals or married couples with less than $5 million in assets may have more challenges than larger estates.

To discuss your current estate plan or for help developing one, reach out to David Heilich, CPA, AEP®, Tax Partner and Family Wealth Planning Practice Leader, at or Debbie Vandeven, CPA, CVA, Tax Partner, at



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