As 2019 draws to a close, it may be time to take a fresh look at your financial and legal documents to ensure that your affairs are in order and that you are ending the year on a solid foundation before the estate planning year-end.
This is especially important if you’ve experienced any notable life or financial changes, such as the purchase or sale of real estate, the birth or adoption of a child, marriage, divorce, or retirement. It may also be wise to take a fresh look at your affairs while there is still time to make last-minute financial moves, such giving cash gifts to relatives over the holidays or donating money to a charity or non-profit that you care about in order to reduce your tax burden. Here are five specific moves our Orange County estate planning lawyers recommend considering:
- 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. Unfortunately, this is the most common reason why 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. It’s a great way to give yourself peace of mind heading into 2020.
- Reduce the value of your estate with a gift- In 2019, you can give away up to $15,000 to as many people as you want, tax-free. This is in addition to 2019’s lifetime gift-tax exemption of $11.4 million dollars for single individuals and $22.8 million dollars for married couples. 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.
- Revisit your will or trust- Having a will or trust is about so much more than who gets your “stuff” after you die. Instead, 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 favor by 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 minor kids, you should also use your will or trust to document who you want to raise them if something happens to mom or dad.
- “Refresh” your Powers of Attorney and Healthcare Directives- You may be surprised to learn that legal documents can 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. For that reason, we encourage people to connect with their lawyers at the end of the year to make sure everything is still up to date and that their documents will work as planned.
- Talk with Loved Ones About Long-Term Care- Over the holidays, you may have a chance to talk with older loved ones who you don’t normally see throughout the year. If your loved one appears to be struggling, it may be time to start thinking about long-term care. We recommend using your time together to simply observe his or her condition and listen. Doing so will empower you with the information you need to talk to other family members and research your best options (home care, assisted living, nursing home care, etc.) so that you are prepared to take action at the start of the new year.
Of course, if you have questions about anything you are reviewing, or you need help updating your plan before the end of the year, we encourage you to meet with an attorney for the peace of mind of knowing that your legal ducks will be in a row heading into 2020. If you need help getting started, we invite you to contact our Irvine based estate planning law firm at (949) 333-3702 to set up a consultation.
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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He’s all about family and passionate about estate planning, elder law, and veterans. He founded Snyder Law to help families from Orange County, Los Angeles County, and Southern California plan to protect what matters most: their loved ones, their dignity, and their legacy.