2016 year-end Estate Planning

As we approach the end of 2016, it is a good time to take stock of the past year and plan for the future.  On the one hand, the economy is improving – the U.S. stock market is at an all-time high, unemployment is low, and consumers are spending money.  On the other hand, we are in year seven of a sluggish economic recovery, and we are emerging from a bitter election which in many ways has polarized our country.

In light of our country’s state of affairs, many Americans feel unsure about the future.  However, as Benjamin Franklin quoted- there are only two certainties in life- death and taxes!  My law firm is here to help you plan for both.  Here are some areas of interest that might have application to your estate planning.

Consider having an end-of-year family meeting.  Family meetings can help you coordinate financial and other estate planning matters and can be a valuable learning experience for children and grandchildren. Communicate the location and your intention or your estate planning documents.  Documents should be placed somewhere safe and easily accessible to the individuals you have named to handle your affairs.

Review your estate plan.  Take a look at your Will and/or Trust to ensure that you remain comfortable with bequests, personal representatives, trustees, and guardians.  Review your agents named under financial and medical powers of attorney to ensure they are still appropriate.  Review living wills to make sure you are comfortable with your end-of-life instructions.  If your documents are more than 5 years old, consult with an attorney about the advisability of executing new documents.  Recent legislation has changed some of the legal requirements for Durable Powers of Attorney, for example.

Review your insurance portfolio.  Consult with a qualified professional to determine whether or not your current life, long-term care and liability insurance continue to efficiently meet your coverage needs.

Review your beneficiary designations.  Make sure your life insurance and retirement plan assets will pass to according to your wishes.  Likewise, evaluate with your attorney the titling of your other assets to ensure they too, are distributed according to your objectives and are coordinated with your estate plan.

Charitable Planning.  In order to obtain an income tax charitable deduction for 2016, gifts must be made by December 31st.  In the case of a gift of tangible property in excess of $5,000, an appraisal will be required so you should start the process as soon as possible.  Make sure to obtain a receipt for any gifts in excess of $250 before filing your tax return.  A cancelled check may not meet the IRS requirements.

Planning for Disabled Beneficiaries.  Congress recently passed legislation to establish ABLE accounts for individuals diagnosed with significant disabilities before age 26.  You can invest cash contributions on a tax-free basis and the beneficiary will not have to forfeit certain public benefits.  You should also talk to an attorney to determine whether assets left to a disabled beneficiary must be placed in a Special Needs Trust.

Review your investment portfolio.  The end of the year is an excellent time to reevaluate the goals of your portfolio, your risk tolerance, and the liquidity needs that will influence the next several years of your financial life.  Discuss your concerns with a Financial Advisor.  Ask your Financial Advisor and your attorney to make sure your investment goals and your estate planning goals work together, and consider having a conference with both advisors.

At the Law Office of Debra G. Simms, we are always available to help you evaluate your planning objectives and make sure your goals will be achieved.  Please contact us with any questions and concerns.

Wishing all a very Happy and Healthy Holiday season!

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