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End-of-year financial and estate planning tips

Although it is probably too late to make changes that will affect the coming tax season, it is not too late for Floridians to take stock of personal finance and estate planning basics. The amount at which the estate and gift tax kicks in did not rise as anticipated and is currently at $5.34 million for 2014. The top rate for capital gains taxes did rise, however, to 23.8 percent from 15 percent. There are still some strategies to employ to reduce taxes.

Transferring wealth to heirs via grantor trusts may reduce the tax bill. Taking advantage of opportunities to fund insurance premiums and education funds making use of the annual gift exclusion, currently at $14,000, is another option. This does not affect the estate and gift tax amount and can be made to more than one beneficiary.

Updating beneficiary information on insurance policies and retirement plans to keep them current, especially in cases of divorce or unexpected deaths, may prevent assets going to unintended individuals. Guardians will need to be named for minor children and dependents. Selecting trusted friends or family members as powers of attorney for medical and financial decisions in case of incapacitation helps ensure that plans are carried out as specified. Necessary documents should be kept in an accessible place for those who may need them in such cases.

Estate planning requires periodic review and strategy to take advantage of changing tax laws and changing economic and personal situations. Thorough knowledge of trusts and understanding of options available for protecting assets and minimizing taxation may help preserve wealth for loved ones. Proper drafting of estate planning documents may aid in asset distribution as well.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Planning Now: Back to the Basics", Jordan Waxman, December 18, 2013

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