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WILL REVIEW: Asking an attorney to review your parents’ will can sometimes result in significant estate tax savings.

How a will review saved $2 million

Estate planning attorney found this family a better way to pass down land to heirs.

I recently met the Thurstons and helped them save an additional $2 million in farm estate taxes.

The Thurstons (not their real name) are a farming couple in their mid-50s. They have an estate valued at about $10 million. They came to Thompson Law to do some estate planning.

As part of our normal inquiry, we asked if they anticipated any larger inheritances. Yes, the husband answered. He was to inherit about $5 million worth of land from his parents when they died. The land he was to receive had been in his parents’ will for over 15 years. His sister was going to receive an inheritance that also was well defined.

We asked if we could review the will.

Many clients tell us, “My parents won’t relook at their will or trust. They did it 10 years ago and that’s good enough to them,” or “They already paid for it once. They are not going to pay to have an estate plan redone.”

Or sometimes, clients fear they will look greedy if they ask their parents if they can review their will.

Fortunately, the Thurston family communicates openly and wants to make smart decisions, even if there is effort and cost involved (which might explain their net worth!). 

Upon review of their parents’ goals, we were able to develop a plan that removed the parents’ estate from probate, created a plan where there would be no estate tax upon their passing and then passed the $5 million of land to their son in an irrevocable trust that he is the trustee of and for which he is the beneficiary for his life, and he retained the power to distribute it to his children or spouse in the manner he wanted to. His sister inherited in a similar manner. 

Because we asked the right questions during their estate planning meeting and their parents were willing to relook at the planning device they used, the Thurstons turned a fee of few thousand dollars into a minimum savings of $2 million in estate tax. The savings could be far greater since the assets will likely appreciate.

It was, as many of my clients say, “a no-brainer.”

For 20 years, Thompson has practiced law and is the founding attorney of Thompson Law, PC. For additional information on farm continuation planning, contact her at or 605 362-9100 or visit

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