This is the time of the year when all of us have no choice but to pour through our bank statements, credit card statements, checks and acknowledgments from charities regarding contributions. Whether you prepare your own tax returns, or have a professional assist you, the first step is always to gather together data from the past year and assemble it into a form which will permit the preparation of an accurate tax return.
While you are going through this data-producing exercise, you might want to consider your Will, and other elements of your Estate Plan, at the same time. While your Estate Planning documents focus more on whom you would want to take charge of your assets, and to whom, and in what amounts you wish your assets to be distributed, preparation for getting your Estate Plan in shape is not that much different from getting your tax information together. Perhaps, you have an Estate Plan, but it was executed many years ago and the people you selected to serve as executors and trustees, or health care agents, are no longer living or have moved away. Maybe, your children have achieved a level of maturity where you can trust them to take care of things when you are no longer able. Maybe you have developed a relationship with a bank, or other financial institution, which you are comfortable with, and whom you want to get involved.
The point is just like your tax returns take some effort to gather information; your Estate Plan requires the same type of thinking and assembling. It matters not that you have located all the information concerning your income for 2014, if you do not get same on the return; you are in jeopardy with Federal and Massachusetts tax-collecting authorities. Similarly, even if you have located your old Will or Trust, your wishes will not be served unless you make the effort to meet with an attorney and inform him or her whom you want to be in charge, and to whom your assets should be distributed. Sometimes, all you need to do is “tweak” your current Will or Trust with a Codicil or Trust Amendment. Other times, you may need to prepare entirely new instruments, because the ones you have in place are so “dated”.
If you are one of that majority of Americans who have no Will or Trust in place, AT ALL, tax time may be the time that you climb off the fence and stop procrastinating with your family’s future. You really owe it to your spouse and children to put down in writing to whom you want your assets distributed, and which people you want involved in making it happen. Not everyone in your family will be happy with your choices, but no one will be able to say “Mom would have wanted this” or “Dad would have wanted that”. You do not have to rely on the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to distribute your wealth. You will have made it perfectly clear what you want.