Sweat the Small Stuff

Sweat the Small Stuff

By: Martin M. Shenkman, CPA, MBA, JD

Yeah they sold a lot of books with this theory, but the small stuff is really important. You should sweat it. All us Type A’s love to sweat them. Here is a bunch of commonly overlooked things that you should worry about.

  • Be sure you have copies of current signed beneficiary designations forms. Too often with bank mergers, they disappear into the merger abyss. Read them. If you want a pre-deceased child’s issue (your grandchildren) to receive that child’s share, the document has to provide for this. Many standard forms just do not.
  • Be sure that you have changed beneficiary designations on insurance policies, retirement accounts, etc. post divorce. Don’t forget policies provided by work, the safe deposit box, and other small items.
  • Are your estate planning documents up to date for new children or grandchildren? While most well written documents address these changes (e.g., my children shall include any children born after the date of this will), do not assume that it does. Dannielynn’s mom, Anna Nicole Smith, did not get it right in her will, hence the major lawsuits.
  • Update insurance policies for current values and assets. When is the last time you had your jewelry and art tallied and appraised? You could be dramatically under-insured and not have key items listed.
  • What is the maximum liability protection you have? If your estate has doubled in size, and your coverage has not been updated since your mother-in-law last visited, your entire estate could be jeopardized by a car accident.
  • Clean up old trusts and UGMAs. The Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA) is a method to hold property for the benefit of another person, such as your child, which is similar to a trust, but is governed by state law. It is simpler and much cheaper to establish and administer, but is far less flexible.) Trusts often have ending dates, such as when children attain the age of majority. Leaving assets in trusts and custodial accounts past their ending date is at best pointless, and at worse creates problems. Terminate and wind up trusts, UGMAs and other accounts that have ended.
  • Update your will for charitable pledges you have signed to avoid disputes and confusion later.
  • If executors and other fiduciaries have died, or reached a stage where it is impractical for them to serve, update your documents removing them to avoid complications.
  • Sign an independent document authorizing access to private health information (HIPAA release) so that loved ones can monitor your care, even if they do not need to activate a more complex living will or health proxy.
  • Have adult kids sign powers of attorney and living wills.

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