Hopefully you already have an estate plan, and if not, you should make this an immediate priority. Though it may be uncomfortable to think about, legal instructions must be clearly stated to direct your personal and financial affairs in case of death or your inability to care for yourself. An estate plan helps you control how your property will be managed when you are no longer able to do so yourself.
When to Review
Without question, the best time to review your estate plan is immediately after a major life event, as listed below. Major changes to your life or lifestyle must be mirrored in your legal documentation. Too often we hear about families that live through the heartache of legal confusion and lost intentions. You can make it so much easier for your loved ones, both family and friends, when your wishes are clearly described.
In addition to reviewing your estate plan after a major life event occurs, you should also make it a regular practice to review your documentation each year, refreshing some of the details affected by changing economic and tax related issues. While a quick review may be sufficient once a year, a more thorough review every five years is a wise protocol.
Review Your Estate Plan Now If…
- Your marital status changes, or the marital status of any of your children or grandchildren changes.
- An executor, trustee, or guardian dies or is unable to continue in their role.
- Your family increases through birth, adoption, or marriage.
- One of your family dies, becomes seriously ill, or is unable to properly care for themselves.
- A family member becomes dependent on you.
- A significant change has occurred to your assets, or to your intentions for their disposition.
- You are the beneficiary of a large inheritance, or the recipient of a substantial gift.
- There has been an increase to your income, or your spending and saving requirements have changed.
- You have reached retirement age.
Important Details to Consider
When you conduct a periodic review, these are some of the essential items to assess:
- Have you considered what your family’s financial needs may be immediately after your death? Do you have sufficient life insurance to meet those needs if probate takes months to resolve?
- Have you and your financial advisors discussed the effect of state and federal income tax on your estate, and made plans to minimize the effect?
- Do you have a living trust or a testamentary trust? Review the named beneficiaries of these trusts and confirm that the designated beneficiaries are correct.
- Reflect upon your family members and friends and determine how you feel about them. Are they deserving? Is anyone left out who should be included?
- If you have a retirement plan or a life insurance policy, confirm that the beneficiaries are correctly named.
- Make sure that any property you own is correctly titled so the transfer of property is efficient and without ambiguity.
- Have you made plans to provide lifetime gifts to any of your family or friends? If so, are these gifts still gifts you intend to make?
- Are you considering making charitable gifts or bequests? If so, review them for accuracy or to make adjustments.
- If you are the owner or co-owner of a business, provisions should exist for the transfer of your business interest. If you have a buy-sell agreement, check to make sure it is adequately funded.
- Carefully review your will to make sure it still reflects the outcomes you desire. Confirm that the people or organizations named as beneficiaries will receive exactly what you wish.
- Reaffirm that your choice for an executor, or the guardian of your minor children, are still appropriate and prepared for the task.
- If you became incapacitated, are your living will, durable power of attorney for healthcare, and your Do Not Resuscitate order in the hands of those you trust to carry out your requests?
- Have you prepared the legal documentation that authorizes the management of your property should you become incapacitated?
As you see, it’s important to spend some time periodically reviewing your estate plan. Not only are people counting on you to have done this well, but it also gives you peace of mind knowing your personal and business affairs have been carefully and properly assigned.
If you would like to discuss your estate plan with me, please give me a call. I would be delighted to discuss your preparations and willing to assist you with making good choices for your unique circumstances.