Estate planning is an ongoing process, and plans should be reviewed with a qualified estate planning attorney every few years to ensure that the goals you set in making your plan are still valid.
Successful Estate Planning
When reviewing your estate plan, keep these things in mind:
- Do You Own Your Assets Properly? There is a big distinction in how to own assets. And depending on how your assets are owned, there will be great tax implications. You may not think about it now, but what if we told you that in the next thirty years, you will be responsible for paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes? That is the situation that many of our clients face when they come to us and tell us that they had no idea their assets weren’t owned correctly. Often times, it’s because their real estate agent didn’t title the deed correctly or their financial advisor gave them bad advice when naming their beneficiaries. An estate plan only works if your assets are owned properly. If you have acquired new assets (or sold assets you had at the time you made your plan) since your plan was last updated, you will need to update your family wealth inventory (which lists out your assets) and retitle the newly acquired assets.
- Did You Name Your Guardians Properly? Be sure those named as guardians for your children, executors of your estate or trustees are still the right people for the job. In addition, be sure your name short- and long-term guardians for your children, provide instructions and guidelines for those guardians and execute medical powers of attorney that allow you to dictate medical care for your minor children in case they are injured when you are not with them.
- Are your goals accounted for? Determine if the terms of your estate plan still meet your objectives and that the beneficiaries and your bequests are still relevant. Be sure to look at whether you are leaving assets to your beneficiaries in a lifetime asset protection trust that ensures what you pass on is protected from a future divorce, creditors or lawsuits.
- Are Your Loved Ones Prepared? Most people either aren’t or think they are but are not, in fact, ready to deal with the aftermath of a death. Confirm that all of the people you’ve named in your plan would know what to do and have access to the paperwork they would need when something happens to you. We send letters to all of our clients’ fiduciaries to introduce ourselves and assure they have clear instructions for when they are called upon. When something happens to our clients, their loved ones know to contact us and we take it from there.
- Is Your Financial Advisor Speaking to your Estate Planning Attorney? It is absolutely critical that all your beneficiary designations for retirement plans, insurance policies, and financial accounts are correct. Never name a minor as the beneficiary (or contingent beneficiary) of an insurance policy or retirement account. It is best practice to be certain that your advisors (legal, insurance, financial, and tax) are all speaking to each other. We refer to this as the “LIFT System” in our business.
- Are you prepared for medical emergencies? Be sure your choice of health care agent is still the right one and that all the proper documents, including a HIPAA authorization, have been executed to allow them to make health care decisions for you in case of incapacitation. Also, consider adding provisions to your health care directive that provide for HOW you want to be cared for, not just who you want making your decisions.
- Are you gifting correctly? If you plan to make gifts to individuals, see if you are taking full advantage of the maximum annual exclusion, which is $14,000 in 2015.
- Are you doing charity gifting? If you make large gifts to charity, you may want to consider making split-interest gifts that provide an income tax deduction while preserving an interest in the property to heirs.
- Can you reduce your taxable estate? You may think that your estate is too small for an estate tax but think again. Most Americans are shocked when they are stuck paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars following a death. If you have already used a majority of your federal gift tax exemption, you may want to consider other strategies to move taxable assets out of your estate.
- Have you preserved your legacy? Talk to your estate planning attorney about other estate planning strategies to take advantage of your generation-skipping transfer tax or remaining federal gift tax exemptions.
One of the main goals of our law practice is to help families like yours plan for the protection of yourself and your family through thoughtful estate planning. Call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk through a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family.