A Parent’s Guide to Wills and Trusts (For Grandparents, Too), Second Edition

By Don Silver

Published by Adams-Hall Publishing; 276 pages; paperback; $13.95 plus s/h for CPAs who order from the publisher
(www.adams-hall.com, or 800-888-4452), and quantity discounts for CPAs buying copies for clients; $19.95 otherwise; ISBN: 978-0-944708-90-3.

Reviewed by Alan J. Straus

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APRIL 2008 - The second edition of A Parent’s Guide to Wills and Trusts is intended for the lay reader. The author clearly didn’t intend to produce a treatise or a form book on estate planning, or to cover sophisticated or very large estates.

Although CPAs do not draft wills or trusts, we are often called upon to give an opinion to a client about estate planning matters, and many CPAs have a working familiarity with the basic concepts. Very few CPAs, however, keep up with the latest estate planning concepts, and A Parent’s Guide contains no detailed discussion of new or novel estate planning concepts. For example, no mention is made of a dynasty trust, or of the rule against perpetuities. But, again, that’s not what this book is about.

What this book does provide is a terrific primer in basic estate planning. While the title may turn some professionals off, thinking it is below their level of knowledge, a seasoned CPA will probably still learn a few things. One needn’t be embarrassed to admit that many estate planning concepts can be confusing to nonspecialists. I use the term “estate planning” loosely, to include areas commonly addressed by an individual simultaneously with executing a last will. Typically, related documents include a healthcare proxy, a power of attorney, and a living will, all of which the book covers. Judging by the calls I receive from colleagues seeking explanations for terminology bandied about by attorneys, the glossary at the end may itself be worth the price.

The book is in question-and-answer format, written to provide well-developed explanations. For example, one important area covered is the titling of various assets. The book explains the different consequences of the various forms of joint tenancy, and reviews the classic case of a mother who wants to leave her estate in two equal shares, one to each of her two children, but fails to do so because of a joint bank account with only one child. Another example is the classic case of the second marriage where the second spouse gets all of the money and the children of the first spouse get nothing. Any experienced professional has probably seen real-life examples of those two scenarios. The standard advice to individuals involved in second marriages is: “See a lawyer. You need to set up a trust.” CPAs who feel uncomfortable explaining to a client how such a trust operates, and the possible negative aspects of a trust, will feel more comfortable discussing such topics after reading this book and using it as a reference.

This reviewer did have several concerns with the book. The first is its use of the phrase “death tax,” one coined by politicians and that I dislike. The proper term is “estate tax.” Another concern is more serious, dealing with expected changes in the estate tax law. Under present law, the estate tax will be repealed in 2010, then reintroduced in 2011. I doubt that any attorney or CPA in this country honestly believes that will actually happen. The book makes only fleeting reference to this, and readers may be left with the wrong impression. This may have been intentional, to give the book a longer shelf-life, or just to simplify the discussion. But the book will probably need major revisions shortly after the national election in November 2008, and readers should be told this more clearly. Finally, as with any book of this nature, adequately covering the state tax consequences for all 50 states is impossible. Here, however, the author does a good job of constantly reminding the reader to watch out for possible state issues.

This book would make a great gift for clients who ask about estate planning matters. Besides giving them something they will find very informative, professionals who read the book will be able to handle most questions they are asked about the subject.


Alan J. Straus, LLM, CPA, New York, N.Y., is chair of the NYSSCPA’s Relations with the IRS Committee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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