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The first quarter of the year is a good time to review your estate plan. It may not need any changes – but chances are good something in your life has changed and your plan may be outdated.

Over the course of time, things change that have an impact on your estate plan. Your children may have married or welcomed a new baby into the family. Perhaps you moved, or maybe you were widowed. Life is filled with changes, at every stage, and your estate plan needs to reflect those changes.

Dairy Herd published a valuable article, “Legal: Review and update your estate plan now,”which advised that you should at least have the basic estate planning documents in place. This includes a will, a power of attorney, a medical power of attorney and an advanced healthcare directive (often called a living will). Also, some should look into trusts, depending on individual situations.

Taking the time to prepare these documents now can help avoid fighting and stress for loved ones left behind.

Create a “Death File.” After you have your basic estate planning documents in place, gather them in one place and inform two responsible people of the file’s existence and location. It can be placed in a home safe, a bank deposit box or on file with an attorney. The person(s) named as your power-of-attorney and executor need to know the location of these documents and have the ability to access them if needed.

Review Documents for Updates. As mentioned above, it’s important to review these drafted documents periodically to see if any changes are needed. Also, when you review a will or a trust, look to see if any of the property listed has been sold, transferred, or purchased. If it has, update the documents to reflect the change in ownership.

Check and Update Beneficiary Designations. Not all property passes in the estate by a will. Some assets, like a 401(K), are passed to the beneficiary of the account regardless of what a will says. This is also common with life insurance, pensions, transfer on death accounts, and accounts held as joint tenants with right of survivorship.

Look at Potential Estate Tax Liability. The federal estate tax exemption for 2016 is $5.45 million per person and $10.9 million per couple. To see if tax liability might be an issue, the estimated fair market value of assets needs to be calculated. Talk to Robert A. Gordon of Redkey Gordon Law Corp, an experienced estate planning attorney if your estate may be close to the exemption limit. He will be able to discuss options to avoid the federal estate tax—a whopping 40% on any amount over the $5.45 million exemption.

Think of your estate plan as needing regular maintenance in the same way that your house or car needs to be checked and serviced from time to time. Keeping your estate plan up to date will protect your wishes and allow you to avoid unnecessary headaches and expenses for loved ones.

Reference: Dairy Herd (February 9, 2016) “Legal: Review and update your estate plan now”

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