Parent’s Guide to Wills and Trusts (For Grandparents, Too),
by Adams-Hall Publishing; 276 pages; paperback; $13.95 plus s/h
for CPAs who order from the publisher
or 800-888-4452), and quantity discounts for CPAs buying copies
for clients; $19.95 otherwise; ISBN: 978-0-944708-90-3.
by Alan J. Straus
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
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.