As your family grows, your estate matures and your assets become more substantial, it’s probably time to start thinking about an estate and trust plan. Estate and trust planning is a crucial step for those looking to ensure that their assets are distributed when and how they wish.

Estate planning tips

1. Consider special provisions. If you are married, your living trust can include a provision that will let you and your spouse utilize both of your exemptions, which can save a substantial amount of money for your loved ones down the road.

2. Plan for the possibility of your own incapacity.  While a will is only effective after your death, a trust can be used to control your assets when you are still living but no longer have the capacity to control the assets yourself.

3. Get everyone acquainted. Introduce your team of advisors to your successor trustees. Inviting the team of advisors to family meetings is a good common practice and great way to ensure everyone is on the same page.

4. Review your estate plan on a regular basis, during major life changes and at least every five years.  Heirs may have died or remarried, or the person you chose to administer your estate may no longer be capable of doing so.  It is best to review your documents and make sure they are still relevant and still reflect your wishes.

5. Make sure your heirs know where to find your legal documents.  You can keep them in a strongbox at home, or in your lawyer’s vault, or both.  Do not keep them in a safe deposit box in a bank.  Without your will, your heirs may not be able to access the safe deposit box without a court order. 

6. Make sure someone knows where to find information about your online accounts.  Since so much of our lives are online, it’s important for someone to have access to your email and other online accounts after your death to ensure your accounts are shut down in an orderly fashion.  Also, not closing online accounts containing credit-card information can be an identity theft risk.

7. Make sure your heirs know where to find other key information.  This includes names and contact information for wealth managers, bankers, CPA, insurance agents, doctors, and attorneys.

8. Consider carefully who you choose as your executor.  A simple estate can be handled by a friend or relative with the help of an estate lawyer, but a more complex estate may require professional management.

9. Consider a medical power of attorney.  This names someone to make medical decisions for you if you cannot make them for yourself.  It helps avoid the threat of people having conflict over what you may have intended.

10. Consider a financial power of attorney.  This allows someone to manage your affairs.  It can be limited to certain functions or can be all-encompassing.  Or you can have what is called a springing power of attorney, which only takes effect if a doctor declares you incapacitated.

11. Update the beneficiaries on your retirement accounts, pensions, life insurance, and brokerage accounts.  The beneficiary designations on these accounts control who receives the account, not your will, so it is important to keep these updated so that your account doesn’t get passed to someone you no longer want it to go to, such as an ex-spouse.

12. Consider making annual tax-free gifts in order to reduce your taxable estate.  A gift of up to $15,000 (in 2018) can be made by a donor to as many recipients as he or she likes free of federal gift tax.

13. Consider making tuition payments. Payments of tuition made directly to a college or university for the benefit of another, such as a grandchild, are not subject to federal gift tax.

If you have questions about estate and trusts, or want to learn more about how to start your own, contact our experts at 925.271.8700 or at