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Estate Plan: End of the Year Checklist

Nov 25, 2014 01:32PM ● By MED Magazine

By: Breandan Donahue, Estate Planning Attorney

With the end of the year at hand, it is an appropriate time to review your estate plan.  Failing to keep a plan up-to-date can frustrate any goals you may have for your estate plan and run up costs for your estate.  Here are some simple, categorical items to consider as you dust off your plan.

Is your plan older than two years?

This is not a hard and fast timeframe, but many changes to the estate planning landscape became permanent at the beginning of 2013.   For example, take the federal estate tax exemption—the amount of property an individual can pass on before estate taxes are levied.  At this moment, the exemption is currently $5.34 million.  This is vastly different from the $3.5 million exemption as it existed at the end of 2009, or the $675,000 exemption of 2000.  There is also the advent of portability—the ability to pass on unused exemption amounts to a surviving spouse.  Portability did not exist in the last decade. 

Is your disability planning in shape?

Estate planning means planning for disability as well as death.  Your Health Care Power needs to be kept current to track changes with HIPAA and state law.  Durable Powers of Attorney—or Financial Powers of Attorney in casual conversation—should also be kept up-to-date for an altogether more practical reason: Financial institutions scrutinize these pretty closely and are wary of accepting any documents that are more than a couple of years old.

Have you checked your beneficiary designations?

Beneficiary designations are incredibly important and often forgotten.  These accompany your retirement accounts and life insurance policies and dictate to whom property should go upon your death.   If you do not keep on top of your designations, they will not keep pace with your life.  So, as the rest of your life is changing—you get married, divorced, or have children—your designations will remain the same. This could mean property going to an ex-spouse or property failing to go to your children.  Beneficiary designations override the rest of your estate plan. To avoid frustration, dredge up your life insurance and retirement accounts, verify you have current statements, and ensure that your beneficiary designations are current. 

Have there been any significant changes in your own life?

State law goes a long way in trying to protect your estate plan, but it is not prudent to rely on it if there have been significant changes in your own life.  Have you recently been married or maybe you were just divorced?   Has there been a birth or death in the family?  Maybe there has been a significant change in your finances.  Any of these are reasons to return to your estate plan and see if it still addresses your goals and aspirations.

Periodically revisiting your estate plan is inescapable.  By establishing a time to review your plan once a year, though, it becomes a manageable task that maximizes the benefit of your estate plan to you and your family.

Breandan Donahue is the estate planning attorney for Goosmann Trust Law Counsel, a 

boutique estate and business succession planning department within Goosmann Law Firm, with offices in Sioux City and Sioux Falls. 

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