By Jeffrey R. Wolfe, Senior Vice President, Manager of Wealth Planning StrategiesPrint This Post
This time of year many people are making a list and checking it twice. While you’re at it, why don’t you check the status of your estate plan to make sure everything is in order.
The first step is to make sure you’ve even got a plan! It’s estimated that more than 50% of adult Americans don’t have an estate plan.  If you don’t have a plan, you can stop your review and start by making an appointment with an estate planning attorney to get your plan started.
If you have a plan, it’s time to find it and take a look. Do you know where it is, do you know what it says? An estate plan is something that’s truly never done until you’re “done.” Take a look at your documents and see what they say. While you’re reviewing your plan, consider some of the following and see whether they apply to your situation:
Life happens. We experience births, deaths, marriages and divorces. If you’ve experienced any of these issues, review your plan to see whether a life event has changed your plan, or is motivation for you to update your plan.
CHANGES IN THE LAW
Unless your plan was written in January 2018 or later, there’s been a change in the estate and gift tax laws since you created your plan. In December 2017, the federal exclusion was $5.49 million. Today, it’s $11.4 million, and indexing for inflation to $11.58 million for 2020. To make things more complicated, if Congress doesn’t act to change the current law, the exclusion will revert in 2026 to something around $5-6 million.
That’s not all. As the federal rules have changed, many states have implemented or eliminated their own state estate taxes. As of this writing, twelve states and the District of Columbia impose an estate tax while six states have an inheritance tax.
In short, this area of the law is constantly shifting. When it does, it may affect your plan. Many plans reference the federal estate tax thresholds and stipulate how and who may inherit based on those thresholds. Review whether your documents contain these references, and if so, consider whether your plan still meets your legacy goals given the current tax situation.
CHANGES IN WEALTH
How old is your will or trust? Did you create it the week you brought your daughter home, and now you’re walking that daughter down the aisle? If your document has some yellowing in the paper, it’s also likely your financial situation has changed significantly since you created your plan. Review your provisions again and see whether leaving your current assets outright to a younger beneficiary may still be an appropriate plan. With the tax law changes, perhaps you now have an estate tax problem as well. Again, reviewing your plan will help confirm your goals are still being met.
RULE OF THUMB, EVERY THREE TO FIVE YEARS
While we’ve raised several “events” that can help motivate you to review your plan, you should still consider reviewing your estate plan every three to five years. Estate plans, like homes, require regular maintenance. Even if the events above don’t apply, consider a New Year’s resolution to review your plan every three to five years.
Estate planning can be intimidating, and it’s never all that exciting to plan for your own demise. Your documents may be long and complex as well. Your Benjamin F. Edwards financial advisor has tools available to help you review your plan, and you can always work with your tax and legal advisors to review your situation as well. You’ve worked hard for what you have and spending some time to create or review your plan will help assure that your legacy goals will be achieved.
The information provided is based on internal and external sources that are considered reliable; however, the accuracy of this information is not guaranteed. This piece is intended to provide accurate information regarding the subject matter discussed. It is made available with the understanding that Benjamin F. Edwards & Co. is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or tax preparation services. Specific questions on taxes or legal matters as they relate to your individual situation should be directed to your tax or legal professional.