Year-End Financial To-Do: Implement or Update Your Estate Plan

Dec 28, 2023

By Jeffrey R. Wolfe, Senior Vice President and Manager, Wealth Planning Strategies
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You’re surviving the bustle of the holiday season, and the New Year is right around the corner. There’s not much better than celebrating renewal and a “clean slate” year to come. That said, life’s responsibilities remain. One enormous responsibility is to make sure you’ve taken steps to ensure your legacy goals will be met should you pass away, and to make sure you’re prepared should you become incapacitated. In other words, you need to make sure your estate plan is in order.

The first issue to address is whether you have a plan at all! A recent survey by D.A. Davidson & Co., cited by Michael S. Fisher[1], shared the unfortunate finding that only 34% of American adults have a complete estate plan. Having a plan is paramount in securing you will be taken care of in case of incapacity and that your assets will pass as you wish upon your death. Should you not prepare for these events, your state’s default laws will decide who cares for you during incapacity and who inherits from you upon your death. It’s unlikely the state’s plan aligns with your goals, so if you don’t have estate planning documents in place, consider a New Year’s resolution to get a plan implemented.

If you have a plan in place, you should review it to make sure it aligns with what your goals are now. Are loved ones older and wiser, or perhaps are they older and showing some concerning behavior? Are the individuals you named as your attorney-in-fact or your trustee still the people you want making decisions on your behalf? Here are some key reasons to review and possibly update your plan:

  • Life Events: If you’ve experienced a birth, death, marriage or divorce in your life or the life of a loved one, you should review your plan to ensure your desires will still be met. These life events can affect how your plan plays out.
  • Changes in the Law: There have been significant changes to the law over recent years, and major changes are scheduled to occur in 2026. For example, in December 2017, the federal exclusion was $5.49 million. In 2018, it doubled to $11.18 million. In 2024, the exclusion will be $16.61 million, and if Congress doesn’t act to change the current law, the exclusion will revert in 2026 to something around $6 million or $7 million. These fluctuating numbers may have significant effects on your plan, as many plans reference the federal estate tax thresholds and stipulate how and who may inherit based on those thresholds. Just over 20 years ago the exclusion was only $600,000, a number dwarfed by today’s rates. Review your plan to make sure your assets will pass to whom you want and how you want.
  • Changes in Your Net Worth: How old is your will or trust? Did you create it the week you brought your newborn daughter home, and now you just finished playing with your grandchildren over the holidays? If your document has some yellowing in the paper, it’s also likely your financial situation has changed significantly since you created your plan. Review your provisions again and see whether it’s time to make a change. With the tax law changes, perhaps you have an estate tax problem now or may in 2026. Again, reviewing your plan will help confirm your goals are still being met.



[1] Fischer, Michael S., Two-Thirds of Americans Don’t Have an Estate Plan:  Survey,