Downs Law Firm, P.C.

Estate Planning checklist

Your Estate Planning Checklist for 2024

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Early in 2024, you should communicate with your advisers and review several items about your 2023 planning, if that planning is to have any likelihood of succeeding.

Like a pilot before takeoff, you should use an Estate Planning Checklist annually to consider often overlooked items. If you reviewed or created your estate plan in 2020, you are ahead of most Americans, but you’re not done yet. If you created a trust and gave gifts of real estate, business interest, or other assets, you need to address the loose ends and do the follow-up work to ensure that your planning goals will be met. That’s sound advice to revisit from the article “Checklist 2020 Planning Follow Through: You Have More Work To Do” from Forbes.

Here are a few to consider:

Did you loan money to heirs? If you made any loans to heirs or had any other loan transactions, you’ll need to calendar the interest payment dates and amounts and be sure that interest is paid promptly as described in the promissory notes. Correct interest payments are necessary for the IRS or creditors to treat the transaction as a real loan. Otherwise, you risk having the loan recharacterized or, worse, being disregarded completely.

Did you create an irrevocable trust? If so, you must be sure that gifts are made to the trust each year to fund insurance premiums. If the trust includes annual demand powers (known as “Crummey powers”) to allow gifts to qualify for the gift tax annual exclusion, written notices for 2020 gifts will need to be issued. This can be way more complicated than you expect: if you have transfers made to multiple trusts and outright gifts made directly to heirs, those gifts may need to be prioritized, based on the terms of the trusts and the dates of the gifts to determine which gifts qualify for the annual exclusion and which do not.

If you made gifts to a trust exempt from the generation-skipping transfer tax (GST), you may have to file a gift tax return to allocate the GST exemption so the trust remains GST-exempt. Talk to your estate planning attorney to avoid any expensive mistakes.

Do you own life insurance? Or does a trust own life insurance for you? Either way, do not ignore your coverage after you’ve purchased a policy or policies. Your broker should review policy performance, the appropriateness of coverage for your plan, etc., every few years. If you didn’t do this in 2020, make it a priority for 2021. Many people create SLATS—Spousal Lifetime Access Trusts—so their spouses benefit from the trusts. However, if your spouse dies prematurely, the SLAT no longer works.

Paying trustee fees. If you have institutional trustees, their fees need to be paid annually. If you pay the fees directly, the fee becomes an additional gift to the trust, requiring the filing of a gift tax for that year. If the trust pays the fee directly, there might not be a tax implication. Again, check with your estate planning attorney.

Did you make transfers to a trust with a disclaimer mechanism? If you made transfers to a trust that has a disclaimer mechanism and you want to reconsider the planning, it may be possible for beneficiaries or a trustee to disclaim gifts made to the trust within nine months of the transfer, thereby unwinding the planning.

What strategies should you consider if the Trump Estate Tax exemptions expire after December 31, 2025? For 2024, the federal estate tax exemption is 13.61 Million per individual, but that will be essentially cut in half unless the current tax laws expire in 2026.

Any name changes, births, deaths, or changes in capacity that would suggest updates? Family circumstances move and adapt, and your planning should keep up.

The best estate plan is one that is reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that it works. If it has been more than three years since you updated you estate plan, a review and possibly a tune up are in order.

Reference: Forbes (Dec. 27, 2020) “Checklist 2020 Planning Follow Through: You Have More Work To Do”