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Using trusts to protect assets in an estate plan

A trust protector can play an important role in keeping assets safe from threats such as lawsuits. Florida parents often use a trust protector when they create a living trust for a child and make the child the trustee. Placing assets in the trust can also protect them from a spouse. Often a sibling may be appointed as protector to step in if necessary.

Other strategies can also help protect assets from being seized or from estate tax. While the current estate tax exemption is about $11 million, that is due to sunset in 2026. It could drop much lower, so even people who currently think they do not have to worry about estate tax may need to revise their plan in the future. A spousal lifetime access trust removes the assets in it from the taxable estate but still leaves control with the couple. For greater protection, an asset protection trust places control with an outside trustee.

Families might also want to consider a dynasty trust. This can offer protection from gift and estate taxes for generations, and free of these taxes, the wealth in them can grow significantly. Failing to plan appropriately can be costly. Poor estate planning choices on the part of actor James Gandolfini cost his family $44 million of his $70 million estate, and this could have been avoided.

A successor trustee or executor of a will may want to seek legal assistance after a person's death. An attorney may be able to assist in estate administration and probate. This could include notifying the necessary entities, finding and securing assets, filing tax returns and closing the estate. An attorney may also be useful if any element of the estate plan is challenged by a family member.

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