Law Office of Robin Gorenberg

Happy 2016! 

 

New Year's Resolutions For Your Estate Planning!

Thinking about ways to kick start 2016? Review your estate planning documents!

Here's a basic checklist of the items I recommend you review annually (make it a New Year's tradition!).

If we worked together on your estate plan, you already have a summary letter that makes it very easy to review your general estate plan as well as the relevant provisions.

1.  Check on any changes in your life or the lives of people named in your
documents.

Have you gotten married or divorced? Had a child or adopted a child? Moved to a different state? Had a death in the family? Had a major financial event? Purchased or sold real estate? Have any of your beneficiaries died, gotten married, divorced? Any of these life changes may affect your estate planning, and your documents may need to be revised.

2.  Review your Will and/or Revocable Trust.

The following are the elements of these documents that are most important to review.

a. Personal Representative (also known as the Executor) and Trustee.

The person in charge of handling your estate after your death.

Are they still an appropriate choice? Can they still be relied on to carry out your wishes as detailed in your Will or Trust?

b. Beneficiaries.

It is important to review how you leave your property after your death. Do you still talk to that friend to whom you are giving $5,000?  Does your child still owe money on that loan you refer to in your documents? Are your children older now and no longer need guardians or later ages of distribution?

c. Gifts of Specific Property or Pets.

If there is any specific item of property, such as a family heirloom or jewelry, that you want a particular person to receive, you should update your documents to incorporate that gift. MA now allows you to specify such gifts in a list separate from your will or trust, which you can create and update on your own without the formality of updating your Will.

In addition, you can have specific provisions for who should receive your pets upon your death, as well as leaving money and instructions for the care of your pets.

d. Estate Taxes.

Is your estate over $1 million? This includes real estate, financial accounts, retirement plans AND life insurance.  If it's over $1 million there could be a MA estate tax at your death and there are ways to reduce this.

3. Review your Power of Attorney (financial decisions during lifetime).

This is a document where you name someone (and an alternate) to make your general and financial type decisions during your lifetime.  You might have the "immediate" type (effective upon signing) or "springing" (only effective if you are proven to be incapacitated). 

Even if you have no changes to this document, it's a good idea to update this every 5-6 years, since they can go "stale" (many banks and other financial institutions will not recognize them if they are older than that).

4. Review your Health Care Proxy (medical decisions during lifetime).

This is a document where you name someone (and an alternate) to make your medical decisions if you can't make or communicate them.

Your Health Care Proxy should include "HIPAA" provisions, allowing your named agent to obtain your medical information.

The Health Care Proxy can also include "living will" provisions - your instructions that you do not want artificial life support if you are in a "permanent vegetative condition".  In MA, living wills are not legally binding but are still a good idea to include if you feel strongly about that.

MA also offers a "MOLST", which is a form you can fill out with your physician in which you can be very specific about your medical wishes under different circumstances (separate from the Health Care Proxy).  This is typically used by people with serious illnesses, but can be used by anyone. For more information, see: http://molst-ma.org/

5. Review Beneficiary Designations on Life Insurance & Retirement Plans.

This is crucial.  No matter what your Will or Trust says, these types of assets pass directly to the named beneficiary and not through the Will or Trust (unless the Trust is named as beneficiary). 

6.  Check on "funding" trusts and asset ownership. 

As part of any estate plan, it is important to check how assets are owned (i.e. individually, jointly, in a Trust).  Depending on what type of documents you have, title to assets can be an important part of making the documents work.  For example, if you have a Trust that is set up to avoid probate, you must re-title assets into the Trust in order for probate to actually be avoided.  Signing the Trust is not enough.

7.  Important Documents for Children Over Age 18.

If you have a child over age 18, but not yet in his/her own family, you should consider having a Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy for that child, naming you as "agent" to be able to make medical and financial type decisions for him/her if he/she is unable to do so. This is important because once your child turned 18, you, as parent, no longer have the authority to act for that child or access his/her information. Here is a link to a recent article on this very topic. http://www.forbes.com/sites/deborahljacobs/2014/08/15/two-documents-every-18-year-old-should-sign/ 



Wishing you a very happy and healthy new year!

 

 
Robin Gorenberg, Esq.

(617) 731-9924

[email protected]

www.robingorenberg.com 

   

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