How do the new tax laws impact your farming operation?

By now, you are probably getting ready to file your taxes and close out what remains of 2017. You may also be learning how President Trump’s tax reform plan, which passed at the end of December, will affect you throughout the rest of 2018. With all of this in mind, you may not be thinking much about your estate plan. However, when it comes to estate planning, it’s not just about the tax benefits. Now is a great time to ask yourself, when is the last time I reviewed my plan? If you can’t answer that question quickly, then use the New Year as a time to make a resolution that will benefit your family for years to come. Here are a few things to ask yourself.

Do you have a will? Everybody needs a will. You need a will even if you and your spouse have put almost everything in joint names (in case you die after becoming the sole surviving owner). You need a will, to dispose of personal things and tie up loose ends, even if you place the bulk of your assets in a living trust. And you need a will if you wish to name a guardian for your children.

Is your planning up to date? Wills and trust agreements should be reviewed and revised as needed. If you have changed your marital status or your state of residence, become a parent or grandparent, or experienced dramatic changes in the size of your estate or the nature of the assets that it contains, review your estate planning now.

Is your choice of executor and trustee still realistic? When people make their first, simple wills, usually they name a spouse, relative or close friend as executor and trustee. As your estate grows, and your estate plan becomes more complex, however, designating an inexperienced individual to handle your estate is no kindness.

Your executor, the personal representative of your estate, will be called upon to assemble, inventory and evaluate all your assets; oversee the preparation of complex income and estate tax returns; counsel your beneficiaries; and keep detailed records.

If your estate is to be held in a continuing trust for your beneficiaries, your trustee will be called upon to provide prudent investment management, to continue to counsel beneficiaries and to provide comprehensive reports. Both jobs are demanding, and both place the inexperienced at risk in terms of personal financial liability.

Have you planned your whole estate? Your life insurance, your IRAs, your money in the company retirement plan – these are examples of estate assets that typically are not controlled by your will. Instead they go directly to the beneficiaries you designate. Make sure your beneficiary designations are up to date and compatible with the other elements of your estate plan. If you established a living trust some years ago, check to make sure that title to later-acquired assets has been transferred to your trust.

Do you have a buy-sell agreement for your business? Business interests often require special planning. A buy-sell agreement with other owners or key employees can provide a business owner’s estate with needed liquidity. And if the pricing formula in the agreement is realistic, it may prevent tax valuation disputes.

If any of these questions have given you more than a little to think about, I encourage you to meet with an estate planning professional who can guide you and provide objective advice. Maybe it’s time to consider a living trust, or maybe it’s simply time to do some tidying up of your current estate plan.

Candice Reed is the vice president and wealth management advisor for Central Trust Company.


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