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I was planning to write this week’s blog on the provisions of the most recent tax bill, but Congress isn’t cooperating. It’s interesting that a major point of contention is the estate tax. Most people were hoping to go back to the $3.5 million exemption and the 45% tax rate we had in 2009. As many of you know, when the Republicans and President Obama originally negotiated the newest tax bill, a $5 million exemption and 35% rate were included. It’s anyone’s guess when a new bill will be negotiated. We didn’t expect to get this far into 2010 without any estate tax at all. As you make your to do list for 2011, don’t let an act of Congress prevent you from preparing for the inevitable.

One aspect of estate planning covers the disposition of your property after your death but just as important is who will manage your property or oversee your healthcare if you are no longer able to during your lifetime.

The documents that should be included in your estate planning include:

Durable Power of Attorney – to give another personal person legal authority to act on your behalf to do things such as:
• use your assets to pay your everyday expenses and those of your family
• buy, sell, maintain, pay taxes on, and mortgage real estate and other property
• collect Social Security, Medicare, or other government benefits
• invest your money in stocks, bonds, and mutual funds
• handle transactions with banks and other financial institutions
• file and pay your taxes

Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care – to allow you to name someone to oversee your healthcare wishes and make any necessary medical decisions for you.
Living Will – this is your written declaration regarding life support if you are unable to speak for yourself. In most states you will specify whether or not you want to receive life-prolonging treatments at the end of life.

HIPPA Release – the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 requires healthcare providers to make reasonable efforts to limit the release of protected health information. This document will allow you to name one or more persons to have access to all of your medical information. It is especially important because you want to ensure your Healthcare Power of Attorney has all of the relevant medical information if they need to make decisions on your behalf.

Once you have take the time to draw up your estate plan, it is critical to make sure it remains current. If you no longer want one of your representatives (such as your executor or healthcare proxy) to serve in this capacity, or they are no longer able to do so, make sure you update your documents. Moving to another state may also be a reason for an update. State or Federal law changes can impact your plan, so at the very least, make sure to review your documents with your estate planning attorney every five years.

Christine L. Carleton, CFP®