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An estate plan can't wait for an act of Congress

Some residents of Miami and elsewhere have been putting off estate planning, waiting to see what action Congress will take regarding estate tax. But in an election year, we might not have a decision on that topic until very late in 2012.

People should not wait that long to draw up an estate plan, however, if there is not one in place. Here are five things one professional said can't wait for tax laws to be passed when it comes to estate planning.

  1. Review the beneficiaries of all bank accounts, retirement accounts and insurance policies, amongst other personal filings. Has there been a divorce or a wedding? A new addition to the family? The beneficiaries listed on such financial accounts are the official word if they differ from other estate-planning documents, so they must be up to date.
  2. Name legal guardians for the children. Parents should choose the people who most closely share their philosophies and their values, and make sure those people agree to the responsibility. Choose the best person for the job. This means that it does not have to be a close relative.
  3. List a power of attorney to turn over affairs to someone trusted should decision making no longer be possible. People should appoint a power of attorney for health care and another for finances.
  4. Write both a living will and a final will. The living will lays out directions for future medical care. The will lays out what to do with assets after death.
  5. Choose an executor who will follow through and carry out the wishes in the will. A family member can do so if the estate is not complex. More difficult situations require a professional.

Dying without a will could send an estate into probate or leave children without the guardian parents would prefer. Sitting down with an estate planning attorney can help prevent these types of situations from occurring.

Source: Morningstar, "5 Estate-Planning Tasks That You Shouldn't Put Off," Christine Benz, Aug. 20, 2012

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