The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (ATRA12) provided a much needed level of permanence to estate taxation on the federal level. The federal estate tax exemption is currently $5.25 million and portability provides a married couple with a total exemption of $10.5 million. Many people are wondering if they need a complex estate plan if their estate will be less than the exemption, or if a simple will is enough.
A simple will is a legal document that applies only to the maker of the will and provides instructions for the final disposition of your estate. The document names your beneficiaries, family members or not, and institutions, such as charities. There should be enough information about the beneficiaries to adequately identify them.
The will also appoints your personal representative, who is known as your executor. This is the person who is legally responsible for making sure the instructions in your will are followed. A backup executor should be named in case the first person is unable to act for you. If you have minor children, your will should also name guardians for them. This is the person(s) who will care for your children or for anyone else for whom you are legally responsible. Finally, the will provides instructions for how you want your assets distributed, and to whom. There could be other provisions required depending on your state of residence.
Everyone’s situation is unique and the reality is all wills are simple if they meet your needs and the needs of your family. The cost of having an experienced estate planning attorney prepare a will is a relatively small part of your financial plan. Instead of focusing on a simple will, make sure your will contains the right language to accomplish your goals and protect your family assets. Be sure to discuss the will with your family to avoid family problems after you’re gone.