Year end is an ideal time to review your estate plan

by Adler Pollock & Sheehan P.C.
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Adler Pollock & Sheehan P.C.

As of this writing, it’s still anybody’s guess as to whether Congress will enact major tax reform legislation affecting federal gift and estate taxes. This situation casts a large shadow over estate planning at the end of 2017 and how to proceed for 2018.

Nevertheless, it’s advisable to review your current plan at this time of year and pinpoint specific areas that should be addressed, regardless of the prospects for tax reform. Where should you look? Let’s consider four points of interest.

  1. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. A will is the primary legal document for determining how your assets will be distributed and what would happen to your minor children on your death. But you can’t just place your will in a firesafe box and forget about it: Review and update it regularly to reflect changes in your personal circumstances as well as other events.

For instance, you might add to or subtract from the list of beneficiaries, possibly because of births of children and grandchildren and marriages or divorces of family members. Furthermore, you may want to replace the executor you initially named in your will with another choice, perhaps a professional instead of a family member. And your will may need to be amended if and when significant tax reforms are passed.

  1. Trust in a living trust. Like a will, a living trust provides for distributions of assets to named beneficiaries. Unlike a will, however, a living trust avoids the probate process — which can be lengthy and expensive in some states — and is shielded from public inspection. For these reasons, a living trust is often used to complement a will, with select assets being transferred to the trust.

Similar to a will, changes in your circumstances may dictate revisions to a living trust. Typically, after reviewing this document, you may decide on a reallocation of assets. The trust may also be affected by sales or acquisitions of property. In addition, you may want to change the guardians of minor children in a pour-over will. Generally, the trustee will have substantial discretion in financial matters, so make sure you are comfortable with the current designation.

  1. Find the power. When the unexpected occurs — such as a lengthy illness or a disabling injury — a power of attorney can come in handy. This legal document authorizes a designated agent to act on your behalf. A “durable” power of attorney continues in the event of an illness or injury.

A power of attorney can be especially beneficial if you are planning to buy or sell assets, undergo major surgery or embark on an extended trip. As with the executor of your estate and the trustee of a living trust, you might switch to another agent after a year-end review.

  1. Address end-of-life situations. A living will, not to be confused with a regular will, can provide guidance to loved ones concerning difficult life-sustaining decisions. With a living will, you decide ahead of time about use of life support, medication, tube feeding and artificial hydration in the event you become terminally ill or can no longer speak for yourself. Also, by using a health care power of attorney, you may authorize someone to ensure that your wishes are met.

Although living wills are often associated with the elderly, unexpected health events can happen at any age. That’s why it’s important to create this document if you haven’t done so already. During your annual review, you may update your living will to reflect any significant changes in your health condition or upcoming surgeries.

Invariably, everyday life will provide plenty of twists and turns. It’s important to adapt your estate plan to reflect the events that are both within and beyond your control. As one year draws to an end and a new one beckons, review these four legal documents and then act accordingly. 

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Adler Pollock & Sheehan P.C. | Attorney Advertising

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