Three important legal documents that every adult should have are a will, a living trust, and a living will. Each document defines your decisions for the different areas of your estate and will save your loved ones time, money and stress when you are gone. These documents are easy to draw up, or you could have a lawyer prepare the documents for a nominal fee.A WILL dictates how your estate and property is to be distributed after your death and can also designate guardians for children and self should you become incapable or pass away. A regular will must pass through probate court in most states before your estate can be passed on to your heirs. Most state laws do not require that you use a lawyer to prepare your will; you can use a will kit at home. Probate court can take some time if there are any disputes, so make sure your wishes are clear when writing your will. A LIVING WILL defines your wish to be kept or not kept alive by artificial life support in the event of terminal illness or injury. A living will also give you the ability to set limits on your hospital, medical and funeral costs that can easily drain your estate and leave your loved ones with the bills. If you express your wishes beforehand, it will make the process much less stressful for those involved in your care and the execution of your final wishes. A LIVING TRUST is quite similar to a regular will, but they are different at the core. Unlike a regular will that cannot be changed after it is written, a living trust can be amended at any time. A living trust takes effect while you are alive, whereas a will takes effect after you pass. You can put property into your living trust at any time before your death and afterward your estate goes directly to your heirs without passing through probate court. If you ever change your mind about the definitions of your will, you can change or revoke how your estate will be divided at any time by using a living trust. A living trust will also save money and time later on because your loved ones won’t have to go through probate first.
- Decide whether or not you (or your parents) will itemize deductions. Run the numbers to decide whether you’re better off taking the standard deduction (which is $5,950 for single filers or $11,900 for those who are married filing jointly). If you are going to itemize, look for opportunities to increase the amount of deductions before the year is over, since all deductions will lower your tax bill. For example, if you make a larger-than-usual donation to charity you’ll reap extra benefits. This may motivate you to do a little holiday cleaning, and take unused clothing or furniture to The Salvation Army or Goodwill. These organizations will provide you with a receipt, and you’ll be able to claim the item’s fair value as a deduction.
- Make large gifts now. If you or your parents want to give someone a large cash gift, write the check and make sure it’s cashed before January 1. You can give as much as $13,000 to an individual without being required to pay gift tax.
- Make an extra house payment. Here’s a trick for maximizing your deductions if you’ll be itemizing next year. Make your January mortgage payment early. As long as you mail it by December 31, the payment will qualify for this tax year.
- Review medical expenses. How much have you and your parents paid for medical care out-of-pocket? If your medical expenses are greater than 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income, you can deduct them on your tax return. If you are close, you may be able to find ways to get care or purchase supplies that will put you over the edge.
- Consider claiming your parent as a dependent. If you pay more than 50% of your parent’s expenses, and their gross income is less than $3,800 (not counting disability payments, tax-exempt income, or Social Security), you can claim them as a dependent. Again, if you’re just shy of qualifying, see if you can make up the gaps in the last few weeks of the year.