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Estate Planning Checklist – 5 Action Steps to Take Now

by Phil Levin, Esq. on February 11th, 2015

The first quarter of each year tends to be a busy time for estate planners, as clients follow-up on resolutions to get their estate plans in order. But even if you are not hearing from clients, you should consider being proactive with them; the beginning of the year is a great time to handle many estate planning matters.

Please consider using the following to-do list with your clients to give their estate plans a review and update:

1. MAKE GIFTS EARLY EACH YEAR –

Many clients know that each year everyone can make annual exclusion gifts; the amount of which is still $14,000 per recipient. Married couples can gift $28,000 together per recipient, due to gift-splitting.

two handsWhat your clients  may not know, is that the best possible time to make gifts is at the beginning of the year. That way, if something were to happen to your clients during the course of the year, the value of the gift would already be outside of the estate for estate tax purposes.

Even with very high federal estate tax exemption amounts ($5,430,000 per individual in 2015), annual exclusion gifts can still make sense for many clients, especially those living in states with a state estate tax or inheritance tax.

2. FUND REVOCABLE TRUSTS –

If your client has created a revocable trust, find out whether any assets have been transferred into it. Over the years, I have found that many clients create revocable trusts, but never use them to their full potential. Clients often know that there are benefits to funding their trusts, but they simply never get around to doing so.

Help your clients transfer assets into their revocable trusts in order to help provide quick access to their property in the event of an illness, injury, incapacity or death, and to help keep personal affairs private. Failing to do so can end up costing clients and their loved ones both time and money.

While some attorneys may charge extra to help clients fund their revocable trusts, in my experience many financial advisors include this as part of their services. Helping with the paperwork involved in transferring financial assets to revocable trusts can be an important value-added service, which financial advisors and estate planning attorneys, often provide to their clients.

3. CHECK BENEFICIARY DESIGNATIONS –

One common (and potentially costly) estate planning mistake involves outdated or never-signed beneficiary designation forms. It is extremely important to check periodically to make sure beneficiary designations are correct, especially if a client has gotten divorced or married during the preceding year, or if a previously named beneficiary, such as a parent, child, or sibling, has died.

For many clients, life insurance policies and retirement plan benefits represent some of their most valuable assets. While it costs virtually nothing and takes very little time to fix or change a beneficiary designation during life, dealing with an incorrect named or outdated beneficiary after a death can be very costly and difficult, and very likely, impossible to modify.

4. REVIEW NAMED FIDUCIARIES –

It is critically important to choose the proper fiduciaries in an estate plan — and to review named fiduciaries on a regular basis. Your client may have appointed the right person or financial institution at a certain point in time, but subsequent changes in assets and/or family dynamics could have vastly altered their situation.

Check existing estate planning documents periodically to see who is designated as Executor, Agent under both Financial and Health-Care Powers of Attorney, as well as Trustee under their Will, then arrange a meeting to discuss with your client whether the choice which they made still makes sense today. Ask your client: “Has a former colleague, friend, or family member been appointed as a fiduciary where there is no longer much contact?”

I also find that many times younger adults name their parents as Executors, Trustees, and Agents — who, as they age, may no longer be able to perform the expected tasks for a variety of reasons. Therefore, it is vitally important that you and your clients review the fiduciaries designated in their estate planning legal documents to ensure that clients still have the right person, and if not, arrange to meet with an estate planning attorney to update their plan.

5. GET PROCRASTINATORS TO ACT –

A client recently shared the following bit of humor with me: “I joined a group for procrastinators……but we haven’t met yet.”

For those among us who have clients without an estate plan….which comprise over 70% of Americans, make it a goal for them this year to get one! Many investment and financial advisors tend to forget the fact that most people do not have an up-to-date estate plan — in fact, the vast majority of people still do not have any type of an estate plan at all, let alone one that is adequate for their needs.

While it can be difficult to motivate the unmotivated client, especially those that like to procrastinate making important decisions, an unexpected illness, incapacity, or death is very trying for most families, and is unfortunately not a rare occurrence. Therefore, it is critical to lay out your client’s options and make sure they understand the detriments of not having an estate plan in place — as well as the benefits, and peace of mind, which comes with having a comprehensive and up-to-date estate plan.

The estate planning process does not have to be daunting or complicated; therefore, make sure your clients know that the comfort and stability which comes from having an estate plan in place will be worth their time and effort.

NEXT STEPS FOR YOUR CLIENTS –

Now is an excellent time of year to meet with clients and suggest reviewing and updating their estate plans.

If you have any questions regarding trust and estate planning matters, please e-mail Phil Levin, or call Lauren to arrange a meeting with Phil at (610) 977-2443.

To learn more about the trust and estate planning services which The Levin Law Firm provides to our clients, please visit our website.

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