Have you experienced a notable life or financial change in 2015 such as the purchase or sale of real estate, birth of a child, marriage, divorce, or retirement? Then it’s time to revisit your estate planning goals and legal documents before year’s end.
After tax and financial planning, estate planning is one of the most overlooked areas of personal finance. Of course, it’s not always pleasant to think about your eventual death or incapacity, but taking care of your “legal business” each and every year is critical to ensuring your wishes, assets and family are protected, if something happens.
The end of the year is a great time to review any planning you may already have in place to make sure it still reflects your wishes and provides the proper protection for assets and loved ones. In addition, implementing the five following year-end moves is a great way to ensure that you are starting off 2016 with a rock-solid legal foundation in place.
1. Update beneficiary designations-
It’s not uncommon for beneficiary designations on your IRA, 401(k), life insurance policies, or retirement plans to go unchanged for years, or even decades. This is the most common reason an inheritance can be “accidentally” left to an ex-spouse or someone you no longer want to inherit from you. It is well worth the time to make a quick call to your Human Resources department or insurance agent to double-check beneficiary designations and make changes accordingly.
2. Reduce the value of your estate with a gift-
In 2015, you can give away up to $14,000 to as many people as you want, tax free. This is in addition to 2015’s lifetime gift-tax exemption of $5.43 million dollars. For those looking to reduce the value of their estate for tax purposes, cash gifts over the holidays often make for a very wise and very merry estate planning move.
3. Revisit your will or trust-
Having a will or trust is about so much more than who gets your “stuff” after you die. Instead, you should think of your documents as vehicles that will help make life as easy as possible for your loved ones in the event of your death, disability or incapacity. You are doing the people you love a huge favorby keeping such documents valid and up-to-date, so be sure to review your will and trust for any mistakes, errors or changes you want at year-end. If you have kids under age 18, you should also use your plan to document who you want to raise them if something happens to mom or dad and who can care for them short term during a emergency.
4. “Refresh” your Powers of Attorney and Healthcare Directives-
Like bread, legal documents can actually go “stale” after a number of years. This is especially true of documents such as Powers of Attorney and Healthcare Directives that can “expire” and be rejected by banks, hospitals or other financial institutions in as little as 12 months. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of contacting your lawyer every December or January to refreshany documents that may now be out of date.
5. Talk with Loved Ones About Long-Term Care-
Accidents and illness are unpredictable and nursing home or assisted living can cost in upwards of $8,000-$12,000 per month. Medicare does not cover most long-term care costs, and Medicaid is need-based, unless you plan ahead. Whether you want to stay at home for as long as possible if you get sick or you want to ensure you are never a burden to your family, it’s a good idea to proactively have conversations about long-term care with your loved ones and financial professionals so that you have a rough plan in place to more easily access and pay for any care you may need.
Let This Be the Year You Take Action!
Estate planning is an easy task to check off your “to-do” list, alongside of last minute tax and financial moves before year’s end. It’s a great idea to set aside some time to review all of your documents and policies, make updates, and, if necessary, meet with an attorney for the peace of mind of knowing that your legal ducks will be in a row before the New Year begins.
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