Ensure that each spouse has allocated their total spousal assets evenly in order to maximize the availabiltiy of the Federal Estate Tax exemption amount. In 2009, it was $3.5 million per spouse. In 2010, there is no Federal Estate tax and no Federal Exemption (but there are other important concerns). In 2011, the Estate Tax returns with a Federal Exemption Tax amount of $1 million per spouse. If assets are not properly allocated, the ability to use these credits to shelter estate monies assets from taxation may be wasted. NOTE: Many states, including New York and New Jersey, employ their own state estate taxes on top of the Federal system.
Clearly Drafted and Updated Documents
Ensure that your documents are clearly drafted. Even if you had a plan done several years ago, the state of the 2010 tax law creates several problems that the scriviner may not have anticipated. This lack of planning could wipe out your ability to maximize the Federal Exemption amount.
Health is just as important as Wealth
A Health Care Surrogate or Proxy and a Living Will allow a trusted family member to ensure that your wishes are respected with respect to your healthcare decisions if you cannot make them.= yourself for whatever reason. Also, HIPPA adds additional legal requirements for healthcare information disclosure. Please plan for the demise of your health as ardently as you plan for the transmission of your wealth.
Use the Right Lawyer
In life, you pay for what you get. Some lawyers will sell you a set of "Estate Planning" documents for a couple-hundred dollar flat fee. Legal Zoom and Office Max can sell you forms so that you can "do it yourself". But all too often, cutting corners now can have catastrophic consequences later on. Please ensure that the lawyer who puts together your plan is competent I do so. Make sure that they focus in the areas of Estate Planning, Probate or Taxation. It is even better if you can find a practicioner who is a member of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel (ACTEC) or one who holds a Master of Laws in Estate Planning.