Individuals in the “modest” wealth category face special hurdles in estate planning. This article assumes that the “modest” wealth category includes individuals whose net worth exceeds the amount that may be protected by the unified credit (for 1999, the equivalent of $650,000 and herein referred to as the “estate tax exemption,” the “gift tax exemption” or the “applicable exemption amount”), but does not exceed approximately $3 million. In general, people of modest wealth cannot easily afford to give up significant amounts of wealth during lifetime to achieve estate planning goals, although the lifetime transfer of wealth is one of the most useful techniques for reducing estate taxes. Unlike individuals whose wealth is small enough that it will most likely be protected from tax by credits or exemptions, or those whose wealth is so large that an achieved lifestyle almost certainly will continue regardless of how much is transferred during lifetime, individuals of modest wealth face a real tension between opportunities to reduce taxes and protect assets from other claims that may arise, on the one hand, and the need to preserve adequate wealth to ensure the maintenance of a current standard of living, on the other hand.
Bridget J. Crawford, Jonathan G. Blattmachr & Georgiana J. Slade, Selected Estate Planning Strategies for Persons with Less than $3 Million, 26 Est. Plan. 243 (1999), http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/lawfaculty/452/.