The end of the year will be here before we know it, but there is still time to get some major estate planning goals accomplished. Here are ten things to do before the end of 2014.
One: Get Organized.
Would your family:
Two: Update health care documents. Everyone over the age of 18 needs a Durable Power of Attorney for Heath Care, which gives another person legal authority to make health care decisions (including life and death decisions) for you if you are unable to make them for yourself; and 2) HIPPA Authorizations, which give written consent for doctors to discuss your medical situation with others, including family members. Give copies to your agents and your doctors. Make sure they are stored in a convenient location readily accessible by your family. Hint: Not in your Safety Deposit box.
Three: Prepare a Financial Power of Attorney. Who do you want to be in control of your finances? Without a written Financial Power of Attorney, the Court will be in charge of your affairs if you are incapacitated. Do it right. A power of attorney needs to be well-thought out so it is effective when you need it most.
Four: Have your estate planning done. Set the end of the year as your deadline to finally get this completed. Stop procrastinating. If it’s because you don’t have an attorney, ask friends and acquaintances for referrals. If it’s because you aren’t sure who you want to be the guardian for your minor children or who you want to be your trustee or how to divide your estate, your attorney can help you decide. (You can always change your mind later. Don’t let these decisions keep you from putting a plan in place now).
Five: Review and update your existing estate plan. Personal and financial circumstances will change throughout your lifetime, and your plan needs to change with them. Revisions should be made any time there are changes in your family (birth, death, marriage, divorce, remarriage), your finances, tax laws, or if a trustee or executor can no longer serve. Now is a perfect time to do this; if there are changes you want to share with family members, you can do that when they are home for the holidays.
Six: Review/update beneficiary designations. This is especially important if your beneficiary has died or if you are divorced. If your beneficiary is incapacitated or is a minor, setting up a trust for this person and naming the trust as beneficiary will prevent the court from taking control of the proceeds.
Seven: Make tax-free gifts. Under current federal law, you can give up to $14,000 to as many people as you wish each year. This is a great way to reduce the size of your estate (and potentially save estate taxes) over time. Charitable gifts are unlimited. So are gifts for tuition and medical expenses, if you give directly to the institution.
Eight: Review/update your insurance. Check the amount of your life insurance coverage and see if it meets your family’s current needs. Consider getting long-term care insurance to help pay for the costs of long-term care (and preserve your assets for your family) in the event you and/or your spouse should need it due to illness or injury.
Nine: Talk to your children about your estate plan. You don’t have to show them bank and financial statements, but you can talk in general terms about what you are planning and why. The more they understand it, the more likely they are too readily accept it—and that will help to avoid discord after you are gone. You can also talk to them about your values and the opportunities that money can provide. Even better, show your values by doing charitable work together —the holidays are an excellent time for families to do this.
Ten: Get basic documents for your unmarried kids who are over 18. It’s a mild shock when we learn we can’t see our college kids’ grades without their permission, even though we pay the tuition. It can be much worse if they become ill. Adults (18 and over) need to have a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care and HIPPA Authorization so you can act on their behalf in a medical emergency. And, while you’re at it, go ahead and have your attorney prepare a Simple Will and Durable Power of Attorney. Hopefully, these will not be needed but if an event does occur, you will be glad you have them.
Eleven: Get Your Free Credit Report. We are all entitled to one free credit report every year at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action. IF you haven’t gotten yours yet, make sure you do this before the end of the year.
Twelve: Make Your Contributions to your Retirement Plan. Now is the time to get those contributions into your plan. If you have not contributed enough to get your employers full match change your contribution amount in your remaining paychecks. If you have an IRA or better a Roth IRA make your contributions. Think about a ROTH IRA conversion. See your tax advisor now to discuss this planning opportunity.
Thirteen: Make Your Charitable Contributions. Donate to your favorite Charity. Some of the best donations are appreciated assets like stock. You also will want to clean up your clutter and give those gently used items to Goodwill.
Fourteen: Get Tax Ready. Make an appointment with your tax advisor so you can make adjustments before the end of the year. Get your bills, receipts and income items organized now. Make the upcoming tax season easier on yourself.