It is important to review all of one’s estate planning documents, from time to time, to see if the contents of the documents still adequately reflect one’s wishes. At a minimum, your will, health care proxy, living will and durable of power of attorney should be looked at by an experienced attorney, to make sure the documents have been properly prepared and that no revisions are needed due to changes in the law.
In addition to reviewing and updating your will and other estate planning documents, it is essential that you periodically check your beneficiary designations on annuities, life insurance policies, IRAs and other types of retirement accounts, to ensure they properly reflect your desires and estate planning goals. Clients often overlook these beneficiary designations, and assume that the terms of their will or trust will determine where these assets pass. The fact is that beneficiary designations essentially supersede the terms of any estate planning documents which have been prepared. Joint accounts and totten trust accounts (commonly referred to as “in-trust for” accounts) also pass outside one’s will and/or trust, passing directly to the person named as the recipient. Assets that are contained in joint or totten trust accounts and/or which have beneficiary designations can cause some unintended tax consequences and they can disrupt one’s overall estate plan.
It is also important to keep a current, detailed inventory of all of your assets. This is important for several reasons. For estate tax purposes, you need to know the total value of all your assets in order to determine if you have an estate tax problem. It is also important to check the ownership of your assets. If you have made any provision for the creation of trusts under your will or pursuant to a revocable living trust, the assets should be titled so that they pass according to the terms of the trust. A common problem is that spouses fail to separate their assets in order to fund their trusts, thus resulting in an estate tax problem.
If you have moved or purchased property in another state, you should consult with an attorney in order to determine what modifications to your estate plan may be required. Often, a revocable living trust is advisable in order to avoid a second probate proceeding, and health care documents may need to be revised.
In summary, it is important to take the time to periodically review your estate plan with an experienced attorney to ensure that your wishes will be effectuated and adverse tax consequences minimized.
* * * * * * *
IRS Circular 230 disclosure: We inform you that any tax advice contained in this communication is not intended or written to be used, and may not be used by your or anyone else for the purpose of avoiding penalties imposed under the Internal Revenue Code.