Most people agree that having an estate plan is something they should do, but never get around to actually doing. As we begin a new year filled with hope for the future, what better time to think about setting up your estate plan? Along with the promise of all that a new year brings, the new legislation enacted by Congress effective January 1, 2011 increases the threshold amount for the Federal estate tax to $5,000,000 and decreases the Federal estate tax to 35%. This is terrific news and should give people an incentive to implement an estate plan.
In order to help you get started, here are three tips to get you from thinking about an estate plan to having an estate plan.
- Make a list of all your assets and debts. This includes items such as your home, car, jewelry and artwork, as well as your financial assets such as investment accounts, IRA assets, bank accounts and life insurance policies. You should list whether you own the asset individually or with another person. On a separate piece of paper, list all your obligations, such as mortgages and auto loans.
- Review the beneficiary designations on all accounts and life insurance policies. Any asset that allows you to designate beneficiaries will pass automatically upon your death. It is imperative that those individuals listed are current and reflect your wishes. Many people forget to update these. If you are unsure who you have listed as a beneficiary, contact the customer service department of the company holding the account or life insurance policy. You can also contact your bank to change your savings and checking accounts to a “payable on death” account.
- Meet with your advisors. If you have a financial advisor, schedule an appointment with him/her to map out a plan for your financial future. Contact an Estate Planning attorney to discuss what documents are appropriate for your unique situation. In order to maximize protection of your assets and to ensure that your wishes are carried out, you’ll want to have a Durable Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney, Living Will, HIPAA Authorization, Will and possibly a Revocable Living Trust. An Estate Planning attorney will also be able to help you with items 1 and 2 in this list so you don’t have to do everything on your own.
Once you’ve taken care of these items, you’ll feel much better knowing that your assets are protected and will be distributed according to your specific wishes.
If you have any questions about Estate Planning, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Posted by Robert L. Vitale, Esq.