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This is a very rudimentary guide with some things to think about.
You really need to get an estate planner.

Estate planning is deciding how to manage a persons assets during their life so they needs can be meet as they age and so their assets can be passed on at their death with a minimum of administrative problems and avoiding loosing assets to taxes.

As you develop your estate plan, you’ll want to keep in mind how to:

  • Try to reduce taxes.
  • Provide for your spouse and other beneficiaries.
  • Consider giving to charity.
  • Ensure your affairs are managed in the event of your incapacity.

Estate planning involves the will, trusts, beneficiary designations, powers of appointment, property ownership (joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, tenancy in common, tenancy by the entirety), gift, and powers of attorney, specifically the durable financial power of attorney and the durable medical power of attorney.

The Legal Documents section that was here has moved to a separate page. (legal-documents.html)
It includes wills, trusts, powers of attorneys, etc.


IRA's:
One of the most important things to do is make sure your beneficiaries are specified in your IRA. That will allow them to continue tax deferred distributions.
If you don't specify beneficiaries or the forms are lost your estate must cash in the IRA within 5 years.

You can name a trust as a beneficiary to give you more control. e.g. specify that children from a previous marriage will get the IRA after your current spouse dies.
After you die, the required distributions can be paid to the trust over the life expectancy of the oldest beneficiary of the trust.
The trustee can withdraw more money if needed to follow your instructions, but the rest can stay in the account and continue to grow tax-deferred. You can name anyone as trustee, but many people name a bank or trust company, especially if the trust will exist for a long period of time.

Multiple Beneficiaries:
If you name several beneficiaries for one IRA, the oldest one’s life expectancy will determine the payout after you die. But with separate IRAs (one for each beneficiary), each life expectancy will be used, providing the maximum stretch out. See:
Understanding Who Should Be Beneficiary of Your IRA - EstatePlanning.com


Estate Taxes:
Dealing with estate taxes is one of the main purposes of estate planning.
The value of an estate typically consists of both the decedent's separate property and one-half of his or her community property.

Federal Estate Tax:

1987-2001 55% of excess over $3 million 
2002      50% of exces over  $2.5 million
2003      49% of exces over  $2 million
2004      48% of exces over  $2 million
2005      47% of exces over  $2 million
2006      46% of exces over  $2 million
2007-2008 45% of exces over  $2 million
2009      45% of exces over  $3.5 million
2010      35% of excess over $5 million
2012      35% of excess over $5.12 million
2011-     40% of excess over $5.1 million adjusted for inflation since 2012
A spouse can inherit your estate without any estate tax.

As of 2016 it was 40% of excess over $5,450,000
The above is basic summary.See Historical Look at Estate and Gift Tax Rates for details.
See also Estate Tax IRS.gov

Trump wants to repeal the federal estate tax, while Hillary Clinton wants to make it more broadly applicable by lowering the exemption to $3.5 million and a top rate of 45%. $3.5 M would only affect 0.2% of estates.

State Estate Tax:
California - none
New Jersey - A progressive tax with rates from about 5% to 16% for estates over $675,000. Only inheritances valued at more than $1.7 million are subject to the highest rate of 16 % as of 2016. For example tax would be $33,200 on an estate of $1 million.
Through a strange quirk in the law, the rates start at a rate as high as 37% on the first $52,174 over the exemption and, thereafter, the rates range from 4.8% to 16%.

An estate of $1,000,000 would pay $33,200 in estate tax.
NJ also has a 15% Inheritance tax. You pay only the max As of July 2016 there was legislation to increase the exemption gradually to $3 million in 2019 and phase it out in 2020.
See:
NJ Inheritance and Estate Tax Forms
Overview of New Jersey Inheritance Tax Rates and Laws

Six states had an inheritance tax as of 2015: Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Iowa and Nebraska and two of them—Maryland and New Jersey—collect an estate tax as well.
An inheritance tax, is imposed on each person who receives property from the estate. It is payed by the individuals not the estate.
In most of these spouses and descendants are exempt.
In New Jersey the rate is from 11% to 16% for amounts over $25,000
See Overview of New Jersey Inheritance Tax Rates and Laws


Books:
Plan Your Estate: Denis Clifford:

Links:
Strategies for Beneficiaries - Estate Planning - Fidelity
Wills, Estates, and Trusts - Table of Contents | ThisMatters.com
  Estate Planning Checklist
Key Estate Planning Documents You Need
Estate Planning Around a Second Marriage - Fidelity

last updated 8 Sep 2016