Estate Planning (06/11/2015)

We tend to look at what we own and what we owe in a rather abstract way.  Perhaps we own a home, car(s), some investments, a retirement plan(s), a vacation home or time share, art work, personal items, life insurance, pets, and other assets we don’t really think about.  We rarely think about what all this stuff is really worth.  We may understand that we can give away, as a gift, up to $14,000 annually to as many people as we like, and if we have a spouse that would amount to $28,000. We may also know that we do not have to pay Federal Estate taxes on up to $5,430,000, gift tax, generation skipping, or some combination of the three.

What you may not be considering is: Who is going to get all of this when I’m gone? This is not a subject that is on our radar screen. Nothing is pushing us to review our estate plan. Many people figure everything is all set. But is it? Have you checked your beneficiaries on your life insurance, annuity and pension plans? Is it your spouse? What happens if you and your spouse die at the same time? You also need to have contingent beneficiaries. With assets for which you cannot designate a beneficiary, such as a home or car, you might own them jointly. But who gets these assets if you and your spouse are gone? Perhaps you have a will that leaves these assets to others, but when was the last time you looked at this information? Who gets the pets? Have you spoken to anyone about relocation of your pets if you are unable to care for them? If you do have someone, is it written down and available with your other estate planning tools? Does someone know the location of the estate planning information, such as your will, trust document (if you have one), durable power of attorney for health care and living will, list of your assets, who to contact (doctors, attorney, tax advisor, financial planner etc.) in the event you are incapacitated?

The point of all of the above is that we must reflect on and possibly revise our estate plans at least every 5 years. We also need to let a loved one know where to find the necessary information easily in order to proceed with what has to be done. Unfortunately, too often I see individuals pass away, leaving the family, which is in mourning, to deal with how to take care of the estate. The easier you make it on them, the better. A book out on this subject might be helpful in getting your affairs organized: The Lasting Matters Organizer, by Barbara Bates Sedoric.  It covers the practical matters none of us really like to think about, like writing our own obituaries, and should help our loved ones to deal with our deaths in a better way. You can find it on Amazon or go to

Ed Mallon