Friday, January 14, 2011

Secrets of Successful Estate Planning

I didn't know a codicil from a Corvette when I joined The Merrill Anderson Company. Summer courses at what became the National Trust School helped a bit, but my practical knowledge of estate planning was imparted by Earl MacNeill.

Mac taught me that tax planning should never drive estate planning. The first planning step is to help the client decide what, specifically, he or she wants to do with the assets of the estate. The second step is to compare ways of achieving those wants. The third is to choose the most satisfactory ways, taxwise and otherwise. If tax savings conflict with client wants, goodbye tax savings.

Also, Mac frequently urged me to explain "irrevocable." The fancy word has a serious meaning: What's done cannot be undone. An irrevocable gift cannot be called back.

Mac's emphasis on that point must have had a history. Last year (see below) probably wasn't the first time estate lawyers led their wealthy clients to make tax-oriented gifts that the clients later regretted.

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