By James J. Ruggiero Jr. Esq.

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “You may delay, but time may not.” No truer are these words than in the case of estate planning. In 2006, 46 percent of the general public had a will; that percentage has dropped to 37 in 2011.  Estate planning is about more than having a will.  A good estate plan also includes: a General Durable Power of Attorney, a Healthcare Power of Attorney, and a Living Will.

Life’s ups and downs, and the estate tax law changes, present the opportunity to protect your legacy. For estates of individuals who die in 2011 or 2012, the federal estate tax exemption is $5 million and the tax rate is 35 percent. In 2012, the exemption amount may be increased by an inflation adjustment.

The average person allows 10-to-15 years to elapse before revising his or her estate plan.   With this in mind and the impact of estate tax law changes, don’t let the heir day of your loved one turn out to be a bad heir day.      

Each of us needs an updated Living Will

The recent celebrity case involving Gary Coleman provides a clear example of the ills that can occur without an updated estate plan. In 2006, Coleman created a healthcare directive that gave his then-wife power to make medical decisions if he became incapacitated. It apparently included a statement to prolong his life for as long as possible. After divorcing and failing to revise his healthcare directive, Coleman suffered a head injury and was admitted to the hospital, diagnosed with a brain hemorrhage.  Coleman’s ex-wife decided to take Coleman off life support only one day after he was admitted. 

In some states, divorce fails to nullify a healthcare directive.  If you have been through a divorce, it is wise to review your estate documents to ensure they continue to reflect your wishes.  

Create a “heir” style that works for you

When is a good time to update your estate plan?  While it is always good to maintain a current estate plan, significant life events mandate a revision. Joyous events such as a birth of a grandchild, celebrating a 70th birthday or a recent move to Hershey’s Mill may call for a revision.  Changes in family such as death of a spouse, re-marriage or marriage for a son or daughter may dictate a change in your estate plan. If you’re looking to sell a business or pass on to a family member or designate, planning is important for tax purposes and to guarantee that the wealth you’ve worked so hard to build is passed on to those you love or designate.

Most of us put estate planning on the back burner. It’s easier to choose to wait for tomorrow. By contrast, we go to the barber or beauty salon on a regular basis to take care of our hair. Have your estate plan updated today, and do wonders for your heir!