3 Year-End Estate Planning Action Items Most People Should Consider (But Usually Don't)

You would be surprised at how many family disputes after death result from disagreements over disposition of personal belongings... - Dana Perry, Chambliss

In your experience, what is the one thing people don't do but should, when it comes to year-end estate planning activities? That's the question we put to experts writing on JD Supra. Here's what we heard back:

1. Review your health care advance directives

From Dana Perry, managing partner at Chambliss: "Many people go years without updating these important documents. Even if you do not update the document, give copies to your loved ones or discuss your wishes with your family. Make sure you address the following:

  • Who is currently appointed to make health care decisions for you if you are incapacitated?
  • What are your wishes regarding your continued care if you are very ill?
  • Does your significant other and next of kin really know and understand your wishes for end-of-life treatment?
  • Have you delivered copies of the document to the persons you have named as your decision-makers?"

2. Make sure your beneficiary designations are up-to-date

From Lori Murphy, a shareholder at Bean, Kinney & Korman: "It is crucial to review beneficiary designation forms for retirement accounts, brokerage accounts and bank accounts. First, people should do this to ensure that a beneficiary is named (many clients have accounts with no beneficiary designated) and second, to avoid probate of those accounts. However, never name a minor child as a beneficiary since it requires something called a 'guardianship estate.' If your estate is to pass to minor children, please contact an attorney to learn about better options of how to pass assets to children."

3. Consider a Qualified Charitable Distribution

From Kristin Matsko, attorney at Partridge Snow & Hahn LLP: "I advise clients to consider the qualified charitable distribution rule ('QCD') which was reinstated through December 31, 2013 by the American Taxpayer Relief Act. This rule permits individuals over age 70 ½ to use their required minimum distributions to make charitable distributions up to $100,000 directly from their traditional IRAs. This is a win-win: the QCDs aren’t subject to ordinary federal income taxes, and our clients are able to meet their required minimum distribution requirements while supporting those charitable causes that are most important to them."

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And a bonus item, because there's no such thing as too much (estate) planning:

4. Talk to your children about disposition of your personal belongings

Again from Dana Perry at Chambliss: "You would be surprised at how many family disputes after death result from disagreements over disposition of personal belongings. Many of these assets, like 'grandma’s rocking chair' have no significant financial value, but have a strong emotional connection. Another related area that should be discussed is the value, disposition and provenance of collections, such as artworks. Make sure you address the following:

  • Do your children want or need your furnishings and personal items?
  • Do they all want the same two or three items?
  • Does your family know where you keep documentation of the purchase price and potential value of collection items?"

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