Top Tips for Estate Planning

Estate Planning Tips
By: John M. Lane

By: John M. Lane

John M. Lane specializes in estate planning, wills and trusts, probate administration, and elder law. He personalizes his approach to each client, striving to offer effective and efficient solutions. John graduated from Baylor Law School in 2003 and worked as a litigation attorney for over a decade at Provost Umphrey Law Firm in Beaumont before opening his Austin law practice in 2013. He values his faith, family, and community, and enjoys spending time outdoors playing golf and tennis with his sons and cultivating his organic garden.

Meet John M. Lane
There’s a lot to keep up with when estate planning. These tips could help, from updating beneficiaries after changing your plan to understanding will-substitute options, like transfer on death.

Social media and in-person conferences are filled with “hacks” to improve lifestyles, finances and everything you can imagine. Taking a page from the world of “life hacks,” this article from Kiplinger, “14 Rapid-Fire Estate Planning Tips,” presents short and impactful info on estate planning.

Tip 1—Consider using a professional trustee in your estate plan for a more effective estate plan and more efficient administration.

Tip 2—For business owners, make sure that your estate planning attorney, CPA and financial advisors all understand your business. Invite them to your office or factory, so they can see how production or business practices are handled and the role of key employees, especially family members.

Tip 3—Discuss Transfer on Death (TOD) and Payable on Death (POD) options to see if they might be useful or detrimental to your estate plan. Many banks are pushing these arrangements, but they are not for everyone.

Tip 4—If you own a closely held company, have your estate planning attorney review any buy-sell provisions in the shareholder and operating agreements. Were these terms coordinated with the liquidity available to your trust or estate?

Tip 5—Do your trust documents include provisions regarding substance abuse powers and protections for beneficiaries? Give the trustee the power to deal with any substance abuse issues, including the power to pay costs directly to vendors and not directly to the beneficiary, require testing and treatment programs and pay for them with trust funds, and withhold mandatory distributions until the beneficiary meets certain testing and treatment standards.

Tip 6—Use an active voice in all forms, communications and agreements. Avoid ambiguity and provide clarity by using the active voice to identify the person who is or will exercise power or duty.

Tip 7—Be careful with personal information and documents. Your estate planning attorney and all other advisors should use encryption to protect emailed documents. Multifactor authentication should be used on any remote access. Don’t open attachments from anyone you don’t know or click on a link in an email from someone you think you know. Pick up the phone and call advisors before opening the email or link.

Tip 8—Ask your estate planning attorney to review the trust’s express standards of care, so you understand the duties and liabilities of the trustee. When a trust states a trust advisor is not a fiduciary and is not liable for actions taken in good faith, then any actions must be in good faith. This is a standard of care, and they are liable for actions taken in bad faith.

Tip 9—Ask your estate planning attorney about having your trust absolve successor trustees of all prior acts of the predecessor trustee. When a trustee is named successor trustee, they will look for this language absolving them of the predecessor trustee’s prior acts of omission or commission. If there’s no such provision in the document, the successor trustee will want all qualified beneficiaries to sign a release and indemnification.

Tip 10—Don’t rely on your memory regarding gift and estate tax returns filed in the past or your past use of lifetime estate tax exemptions, annual exclusion gifts, withdrawal notices and Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax (GSTT) allocations. Locate copies of these documents in your records to ensure that they match. Document your file with any notes or communications about gifting. As a taxpayer, you and your estate are responsible for maintaining records and have the burden of proof in any tax matters.

Tip 11—Anytime you review or update your estate plan, take the time to review any beneficiary designations immediately. Existing deeds, titles, account details and beneficiary designations should all be up to date, as your new estate plan may be ineffective at best (and, at worst, worthless) if those forms are not completed and updated.

Tip 12—If you are a beneficiary, you are allowed to review trust administration and ask questions of the trust officer. You are entitled to know how often you will receive statements or annual accounting, the standards the trustee must follow for making distributions and whether or not you have any control over the use of trust benefits during your lifetime or upon your death.

Tip 13—When updating your estate, ask your estate planning attorney about drafting trust restatements and new wills rather than trust amendments and codicils. Modern word processing makes it just as easy to prepare complete restatements rather than multiple amendments.

Tip 14—If you file personal tax returns and fiduciary tax returns for trusts, it may make sense to use the same accounting firm for both.

Reference: Kiplinger (Nov. 8, 2023) “14 Rapid-Fire Estate Planning Tips”

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