Estate Planning Tips

By Mitchell J. Smilowitz, CPA

You’re retired or getting ready to retire. What do you need to do to make sure that your financial future is secure and that your estate plan reflects your wishes? Here are some points to ponder.

Review Your Will

Review your Will with your financial advisor and attorney. Together you can figure out whether it needs updating. Tax laws and other laws relating to property are subject to change, as are circumstances and beneficiaries, so it's important to keep these potential adjustments in mind. 

Are all the beneficiaries, contingent beneficiaries and executors you've named in your Will still living?  Make it a point to name alternate executors. If the executors named in your Will are not able to serve, a court might have to name a substitute.

Update Beneficiary Designations

Beneficiary designations are included with assets such as insurance policies, 403(b)s and other kinds of retirement plans. Make sure you update these details on a consistent basis. Failure to review your beneficiary designations may result in the proceeds from a life insurance policy or retirement plan assets going to a former spouse or others you would now consider to be unworthy or unfavorable. Named beneficiaries who have passed away can also complicate the distribution of assets after your death.

Final Letter of Instructions

It’s a good practice to draft a Final Letter of Instructions to act as an informal inventory of your financial records. Among the items to include in the inventory are the names, numbers and locations of insurance policies, bank, investment and credit card accounts, information used to prepare tax returns and various other paperwork. An updated Final Letter of Instructions helps heirs locate assets and sidestep substantial amounts of otherwise-avoidable administrative expenses. Make sure a trusted family member and/or advisor knows how to access the Letter.

Beware of sharing the passwords to your financial accounts. If you have a shared account, such as a joint checking account, it is recommended that each person on the account have their own login and password. Logging into a deceased person’s account may be considered fraud; the executor will need to contact the institution and establish the right to access the account.

Living Trusts

Some high-net-worth individuals may find it useful to establish a living trust, also known as a revocable trust. Unless you have a complicated beneficiary situation or property in multiple states, most individuals do not need a living trust. While living trusts don't provide income or estate tax advantages, assets channeled into a living trust go directly to the heirs, escaping potentially lengthy and costly probate proceedings. Living trusts can be expensive to set up and administer; there are legal fees to set up the trust, annual tax returns must be filed and some states have additional administrative requirements. Work closely with an estate planning professional who is familiar with your needs and your current circumstances to determine if a living trust makes sense for you.

Consider Your Financial Advisor

JRB retirees and those nearing retirement have nest eggs that they’ve been building for decades. This makes you a valuable target for incompetent, so-called experts and downright crooked "professionals." The first tip, then, is to question where you are getting your advice when it comes to taxes, finance and estate planning.

Be suspicious of invitations to free lunch seminars geared toward seniors. They're pitched in creative ways by retirement planning services and estate counselors, but they're not always in your best interest. AARP conducted a survey of more than 1,000 people aged 55 and over, all of whom attended seminars on retirement and estate planning. The survey found that the attendees were "pitched investments that were unsuitable for them or were asked for information that could expose them to financial fraud."


Financial and estate planning are complex issues. The first step is selecting experienced advisors who have your best interest at heart. Once you’ve chosen your team of advisors, periodically revisit your financial plan to see if you’re on track. Also review your estate documents: beneficiary designations, your Will, Final Letter of Instructions and any living trusts you have created. For questions on this article, send us an email or call 888-JRB-FREE (572-3733).

April 2023