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  1. If your financial power of attorney is over 5 years old, it is powerless! Your power of attorney won’t be accepted by your bank or stock broker because it is “stale.” If your power of attorney is powerless, you are facing a potential conservatorship, aka a “living probate.”
  2. Do you have a living trust or a living nightmare? Do you even know what you have? If you have not reviewed your estate plan in the last 4 years, you need to update your plan now.
  3. Are you leaving your assets to your children unprotected, outright, and free of trust? Leaving assets to children is not the same thing as leaving “protected” assets to them. Only you can protect your assets passing to your children in your plan. Your children cannot get this protection for themselves after you are gone unless you include this protection in your trust.
  4. Are you eliminating the income tax on assets passing to your children or are you forcing them to pay unnecessary taxes on their inheritance?
  5. Have you failed to create a wallet card for your health care directive so you have immediate access to it when you need it? It doesn’t make sense to put your health care directive in your safe deposit box. According to the American Medical Association, 74% of the public don’t have access to their medical directives in an emergency. Avoid the Terri Schiavo problem now!
  6. Staggered distribution trust? If your trust makes mandatory outright distributions to your children upon reaching staggered ages, then this may cause your trust assets to pass to the creditors and divorcing spouses of the children. Trusts should be designed to keep the assets in continuing trusts so that they are protected against predators and creditors.
  7. Have you planned your estate to avoid the in-laws that may become the out-laws? If you want your in-laws to get your estate you should name them as beneficiaries in your estate plan.
  8. After you die, the person wrapping up your affairs needs to access your digital assets. The best way to provide your survivors with the ability to access your accounts and files is to leave specific instructions including passwords and logins with your digital executor and your digital trustee. Assets may never be found if you have not updated your will and trust to give written permission to your executor and trustee to access your digital assets.
  9. Have you checked to make sure you have a beneficiary designation form for each and every IRA? Where is your beneficiary designation form located? Have you discussed with your children the tax advantages of a stretch-out? If you have not taken advantage of the stretch-out provisions, you have a blow-out and your children will pay more in taxes.
  10. Do you hold title to your appreciating assets in joint tenancy? If so, your surviving spouse will pay income taxes that could otherwise be avoided. Check the grant deed to your house and the title on your stocks to determine how you hold title.

If your attorney is not a certified specialist by the California State Bar in estate planning, probate, and trust, he is a “general practitioner”. Orange County now has 15,000 attorneys all saying they are experts in estate planning but only ½ of 1% have passed a second bar exam that allows them to be “certified” as a specialist in estate planning.

I am a trust doctor (not a medical doctor) because I fix trusts. I estimate 80% of the estate plans I review don’t work because clients don’t keep them current or have not engaged an estate planning specialist. Kobe Bryant died in that tragic helicopter crash and failed to update his estate plan. Kobe’s widow now is forced to go to the probate court to ask the judge to include their youngest daughter into their estate plan because their plan was not updated. When did you last update your plan?

Update your estate plan today! Call W. Bailey Smith, the “Trust Doctor” at 949-833-8891.

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