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The Road Map to Estate Planning

Estate planning is a process. It involves people – your family, other individuals and, in many cases, charitable organizations of your choice. It also involves your assets (your property) and the various forms of ownership and title that those assets may take. And it addresses your future needs in case you ever become unable to care for yourself.

Many people mistakenly think that estate planning only involves the writing of a will. Estate planning, however, can also involve financial, tax, medical and business planning. A will is part of the planning process, but you will need other documents as well to fully address your estate planning needs.

Many people also do not understand that estate taxes are imposed upon estates that have a net value of $2 million or more. That amount has increased to $3.5 million in 2009 and in 2010, the estate tax will disappear completely.

Then, unless Congress passes an extension, the exemption will revert back to $1 million in 2011. For estates that approach or exceed these amounts, significant estate taxes can be saved by proper estate planning, usually before your death or, for couples, before one of you dies.

Keep in mind that tax laws often change. And estate planning for tax purposes must take into account not only estate taxes, but also income, capital gains, gift, property and generation-skipping taxes as well.

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