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A To-Do List for Estate Planning

Get ready for possible changes in 2013

  • Charitable giving. There are any number of ways to donate money from your estate. These should be discussed with your estate planner. The simplest is a "qualified charitable distribution" from your Individual Retirement Account (IRA). You can earmark up to $100,000 a year (your spouse can do the same) for a charity from your IRA. If you're at least 70 1/2, that amount would be excluded from federal income tax.
  • Updating old documents. If you've had an estate plan in place for years, review it. Make sure that you've designated your beneficiaries and trustees and that you've signed the proper documents to give people you trust access to medical decision making.

    Under current medical privacy law, notes Sid Blum, a certified financial planner with Greatlight Fee Only Advisors in Evanston, Ill., people who want to get information about your medical condition or discuss it with doctors must be cleared by you in advance. There has got to be a document on file with your health care providers that includes their names.
  • Integration. Integrate your estate plan with tax planning across your entire portfolio.

    Will your estate be subject to capital gains or state inheritance taxes? Every state is different and requires another level of review.

    Would you like to leave money that won't be subject to estate tax? Various insurance-based products and trusts may allow you to do that. Even family partnerships can be considered.

    Work with a noncommission, fee-only financial or estate planner when considering insurance products — broker-sold products are frequently oversold and can be bad choices for retirees.

Also of interest: AARP Foundation Gift Planning. >>

John F. Wasik is a personal finance columnist for Reuters and the author of The Cul-de-Sac Syndrome and 12 other books.

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