Estate Planning Smarts: A Practical, User-Friendly, Action-Oriented Guide

Estate Planning Smarts: A Practical, User-Friendly, Action-Oriented Guide, 2nd EditionReview by Pamela Zimba, Oakland, California

Book by Deborah L. Jacobs

Among the many reasons that I like this book, is that it’s a combination of estate planning (EP) information and retirement planning (RP) information. The Table of Contents, which contains the listing of the 19 Chapters in the book, provides a brief description of the contents of each chapter and tells the reader “Read this chapter if …” which directs the reader to a specific chapter if s/he has questioned about a particular aspect of EP or RP. For example, Chapter 7, which covers the preservation of retirement accounts, tells the reader “ … Read this chapter if you have your own retirement account or have inherited one …”

Chapter 7 focuses on maximizing the stretch-out, giving your spouse options, going Roth, if you can, being smart about inheritances, using retirement assets to benefit charity, and aiming for flexibility. As with all chapters in the book it is written for the lay person, but does not sacrifice the technicalities of the law, instead, (as I refer to it) converts complicated legal concepts into language that the lay person can understand.

Each chapter ends with a “To-Do List” focused on the subject matter contained in the chapter. The Chapter 7 list tells the reader that “ … An annual review of your retirement plan can help you spot estate-planning oversights as well as tax-saving opportunities …” and provides a list of issues to consider in reference to one’s overall retirement plan.

Other chapters in the book relating to retirement planning include (1) Understanding the Tax System (Read this chapter even if you think estate taxes won’t affect your heirs), (2) Be Smart About Life Insurance (Read this chapter whether or not you have life insurance), (3) Pay for Health Care and Education (Read this chapter if anyone you love could use help with these expenses, now or in the future), (4) Home Base: Factoring in Real Estate (Read this chapter if you own your primary residence or vacation home or might move to a different state), and (5) Given Now, Save Tax Later (Read this chapter if saving taxes is a high priority).

In addition, the book contains a Glossary of terms, which contain user-friendly definitions of complicated legal concepts, such as “annual exclusion,” “applicable exclusion,” “carryover basis,” “exhaustion rule,” and “gift tax exemption” to name only a few of the terms. It also contains a section about “Resources and Further Reading,” and includes information about finding a lawyer, books concerning EP and RP, newsletters and magazines, software, web sites, blogs, and pertinent IRS Publications.

I highly recommend this book to individuals who are considering or are working on their estate plan, or individuals with questions about various retirement planning tools, and or individuals who have questions about taxes. The book is what it advertises a practical, user-friendly, action-oriented guide. The one downside to the book (as I think may exist with most books available on the subject right now) is that it is dealing with the tax laws pre the 2013 changes.

Another interesting aspect of the book for lawyers, accountants, and financial advisers is a section in the back of the book “At Least 10 Ways to Use This Book.” It specifically states that “ … Professionals have relied on Estate Planning Smarts as a business development tool, giving it to clients and prospects. For this purpose, it can be personalized by adding a company logo to the cover and up to 16 pages of customized text …”

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