10 Estate Planning Steps to Take in the New Year

10 Estate Planning Steps to Take in the New YearIs 2017 the year you resolve to get your financial house in order? If so, you need to consider these 10 estate planning steps that will help you achieve your goal:

  1. Create/update estate plan. If it’s been a few years since you last reviewed your estate plan or trust, make an appointment with your estate planning attorney to do so now, especially if you have experienced any life changes like a divorce, remarriage, marriage, birth or a child or grandchild, etc.
  2. Review life insurance policies. Does your life insurance policy need to be adjusted to reflect life changes – i.e., your children are now independent adults? Life insurance policies are investments, and should be treated as such and reviewed periodically for efficacy.
  3. Use asset protection strategies. To protect assets for future generations, your estate plan needs to incorporate important asset protection strategies that will shield assets from a child’s potential divorce or debt issues.
  4. Make a plan for the family business. Many Florida business owners have their personal wealth tied up in a family business. The estate plan for a business owner needs to address future ownership and management of the business and incorporate a buy-sell agreement if partners are involved.
  5. Identify beneficiaries correctly. Incorrectly identifying a beneficiary for your retirement or other financial accounts can be disastrous. Your beneficiary designations must be specific for each account, as these designations will trump whatever is written in your will.
  6. Properly fund your revocable trust. If you have established a revocable trust but have not yet titled the assets you are placing in the trust, it is an empty shell and will not help you avoid probate.
  7. Review/update beneficiary designations. In addition to correctly identifying beneficiaries for your IRAs, life insurance policies, retirement accounts and annuities, you need to be sure those designations are still valid. If one of your beneficiaries has died since you last updated your beneficiary forms, or if you have named a minor child who is not eligible to inherit until age 18, a court-appointed guardian will likely determine where your assets will go.
  8. Plan for incapacity. In Florida, an Advance Health Care Directive should be used in conjunction with a Living Will to express your wishes on who you want to make health care decisions for you in case you become incapacitated. You should also execute a Durable Power of Attorney to handle your financial affairs in case of incapacitation as well.
  9. Distribute assets via a will. Many elderly parents name a child as joint tenants with right of survivorship on bank accounts as a convenience factor, but this move can have unintended consequences that can lead to litigation. A better strategy is to distribute all assets via a comprehensive last will and testament or a trust.
  10. Create flexibility in trusts. Providing for flexibility in trust provisions – especially for trusts intended to last over time – is critical to give heirs the means to deal with unforeseen circumstances that may arise.

With the proper guidance, you can protect your finances and spare your loved ones the frustration of having to make costly and difficult decisions.  Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.