Estate Planning Basics to Address in 2017

If you spent the holidays catching up with friends and family, you saw how many lives changed over the course of the year. Kids grow up, get married and have kids themselves. Life is filled with changes, and estate plans need to reflect those changes.

If you die without a will in North Carolina, what assets go to your spouse depends on whether or not you have living descendants, and if you do, how many. Your living descendants share in the property with your spouse.  If you have no will, and have children from a prior marriage, you may be putting your spouse and your kids at odds with each other.

If you don’t have a will, the state will make those decisions for you. The provisions may be less than ideal. When it comes to property disposition, a will is just a piece of an estate plan. If you own assets jointly with another person, such as joint tenants with right of survivorship (JTWROS), the property passes outside of a will or probate directly to the survivor (although they may be called upon to settle any debts). The same is true for a Payable on Death (POD) designation.

Beneficiary designations on retirement plans like 401(k) plans, IRA accounts, and life insurance, also pass assets directly to the named beneficiary or beneficiaries. The disposition of assets held in a trust are governed by trust provisions.

If you died today, are you sure your assets would pass according to your wishes? Is your estate plan tax efficient? If you own a business, do you have a succession plan to maximize value to your heirs and surviving business partners? Succession planning for a closely-held business is a structured plan to transfer ownership, control and management of the business.

Your 18-year-old is off to college. She’s now an adult. If she had a terrible accident and was hospitalized, her parents, under privacy laws, can’t get any medical information on their adult child. Without a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, appointing mom or dad as decision maker, you’re powerless. If you’re responsible for a young adult, you need to have a will and powers of attorney for assets and health care in place.

The first part of the year is a good time to take care of the basics for your estate plan. If you don’t have a list of assets, accounts and real property, create one to make managing your assets easier for you and your heirs. Add a review of your estate plan to your to-do list: every four years or whenever you experience a major life change, you should have the estate plan reviewed by an experienced estate planning attorney. You should also remember to check your beneficiary designations and consider doing a risk management audit to be sure you have the correct insurance in place.

Reference: The (Dunwoody GA) Crier (January 31, 2017) “Estate planning basics 2017.”