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Did you know?

In one year:
• 1 in 68 will be injured in a house fire
• 1 in 258 will have a house fire
• 1 in 113 will die
• 1 in 8 will be disabled

Valuing Your Estate's Assets

In estate planning, you often come across the term "fair market value." However, some assets are easier to value than others.

The IRS defines fair market value as "the value at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts."

Some assets are easily valued. A stock, for example, that is listed on a major exchange can be valued simply by averaging the highest and lowest quoted selling price for that day. That price, multiplied by the number of shares you own, gives you the value of your stock on that day. Establishing value on most other property is not quite as easy, though. Let's look at other forms of property and how they might be valued for estate-tax purposes.

Real Property

There are numerous factors that have to be considered such as the size, shape, and location of the property, zoning restrictions, its potential use, and the value of surrounding property. The value of the buildings depends on whether they are rental properties, the present cost of reproducing them, and their loss of value because of depreciation. Also, certain properties, such as farm or business property, have special valuation issues that must be considered for estate-tax purposes.

Personal Property

Property such as your car, furniture, jewelry, etc., will be valued according to the definition mentioned above. If you have a house full of possessions, each object will be valued separately. Professional appraisals may be necessary for items such as collectibles or one-of-a-kind possessions.

Life Insurance

Whether or not life insurance will be included in your estate depends on a number of factors. Do you own the policy or policies? Did you hold any incidents of ownership at the time of your death or did you transfer the ownership or incidents of ownership within three years of your death? Also, any insurance proceeds payable to your estate will be included in your estate for estate-tax purposes. The value of the insurance is generally the lump-sum amount of the insurance proceeds.

Stock of Closely Held Corporations

A professional appraisal is usually required. This stock is not often traded and, as a result, is difficult to value. Factors in valuation include: the nature and history of the business, its financial condition, its future outlook, its goodwill, and the market price of the stock of corporations in a similar business.

Professional Practice

This is more difficult to value than other types of businesses because so much is dependent on the professional's expertise. If, for example, a dentist dies, his or her family can't simply take over the practice unless a family member happens to be a licensed dentist. The valuation will depend to a great degree on the practice's client base, fee structure, competition, source of payments, strength of staff, location, and assets.

Regularly putting a value on your estate is a good idea because it allows you to plan for the payment of bequests, debts, and estate taxes. (While federal estate taxes are set to be repealed in 2010, they remain a threat until then.) But it is only one step in the estate planning process.

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