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Investing Specialists

5 Estate-Planning Tasks That You Shouldn't Put Off

The estate tax might be in flux, but that doesn't mean you should throw these important to-dos on the back burner.

Keeping tabs on the estate-planning rules during the past few years has been a little like watching Olympic-level table tennis: The action moves quickly, and it's difficult to keep up.

The amount of assets that could pass estate-tax-free drifted upward for most of the 2000s, and the estate tax went away altogether in a single year, 2010. Extremely generous exclusion amounts, which allowed estates valued up to just over $5 million to escape the estate tax, prevailed for 2011 and 2012. The estate tax was set to return with a vengeance starting this year as part of the so-called fiscal cliff, but the recently enacted tax package extended the generous estate tax laws. The estate tax exemption will remain up to just more than $5 million per individual (that amount will be inflation-adjusted), and the top estate tax rate will increase to 40% in 2013 from 35% in 2012.