Estate Planning Blog Articles

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When Should You Update Your Estate Plan?

We know we need to see our doctor for annual checkups and see the dentist every six months, not to mention getting a good night’s sleep, brushing and flossing our teeth. In the same way, your estate plan needs regular maintenance, according to an article from The Street, which asks, “When Is It Time to Update Your Estate Plan?”

Far too often, estate plans are created with the best intentions and then lie dormant, in many cases, for decades. Provisions no longer make sense, or people in key roles, like executors, either move away or die.

Failing to update an estate plan can lead to a beloved child being disinherited or an animal companion ending up in a shelter.

This is an easy problem to solve. However, it requires taking action. Scanning your estate plan once a year won’t take long. However, when certain events occur, it’s time to bring all your estate planning documents to an estate planning attorney’s office.

Here are a few trigger events when you may want to make changes:

Welcoming a new child into the family. Wills and trusts often contemplate future children. However, when the children arrive, you’ll need to update wills, trusts and beneficiary designations. Life insurance policies, investment accounts and retirement accounts allow you to name a beneficiary, and the proceeds from these accounts go directly to the beneficiaries, bypassing probate.

If no beneficiary is named or cannot be located, the asset usually goes back into the estate, meaning it goes through probate and there may be tax liabilities.

Charitable giving goals often change over time. An organization with great personal meaning in your twenties may be less important or may have closed. If you’ve become involved with a charitable mission and want to leave assets to the organization, you’ll want to create a charitable bequest in your will or trust. Those changes need to be reflected in your estate plan.

People’s ability to serve in fiduciary roles may have changed. If the people you assigned certain roles to—like trustees, executors, agents, or the guardian named for minor children—may no longer be suitable for the role. The person you selected to serve as a guardian for minor children may not be available or willing to manage adolescents. If your trustees are over 70, you may want to name an adult child to serve in this role.

Reviewing insurance policies needs to be done regularly. In some cases, the value of life insurance proceeds may be subject to estate tax. Proper planning should be able to avoid this by making certain the policy is not included in your taxable estate.

If you are considering taking out a new life insurance policy, revisit your existing plans with your estate planning attorney. It may make sense for you to create an insurance trust, which allows you to exempt certain assets from your taxable estate.

Are pets an important part of your life? If so, you may want to make plans for who should take care of your pet if you pass away. In many cases, a pet trust works to name a trustee to manage funds for the pet’s care and formally outlines how you want your pet to be cared for.

Reviewing your estate plan every three to five years with your estate planning attorney or whenever a significant life event occurs will ensure that your wishes are followed.

Reference: The Street (Oct. 30, 2023) “When Is It Time to Update Your Estate Plan?”

Estate Planning in Seven Steps

From defining financial objectives and understanding legal issues to safeguarding assets and establishing directives, every step in the creation of an estate plan is a brushstroke in the painting of your personal legacy. A recent article from Market Business News, “Crafting Your Legacy: 7 Steps in the Estate Planning Process,” describes the process of creating what is essentially a testament to protect loved ones.

Create an inventory of assets. You’ll need to be meticulous about this to ensure that all your assets are accounted for. This includes properties, investment accounts, items of value and sentimental possessions. It should include detailed descriptions and appraisals. This forms the foundation of your estate plan.

Consider your family’s needs after your death. Anticipate your family’s financial, practical, and emotional needs. Consider things like educational expenses, healthcare costs, ongoing support for basics, and, depending on your situation, recreational activities. Address this concern in your estate plan, so your family will have a secure foundation after your passing.

Select beneficiaries. This is simple in some cases and more complicated in others. You may have a traditional family or one including non-family members who are like family to you. Are there charitable concerns you want to address?

How do you want your estate divided? Be specific to avoid confusion and ensure that assets are distributed according to your intentions. Language needs to be specific and clear, with no room for ambiguity.

Store documents properly. Safeguard estate planning documents, which include your will, Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney, Living Will and others, in a secure location, like a fire and water-proof home safe. Do not put them in a bank safe deposit box, as the bank may seal the box upon your death and not allow representatives to access the box’s contents. Talk with your estate planning attorney about their recommendations.

Update your estate plan on a regular basis. Life changes, and so should your estate plan. It should be reviewed every three to five years or whenever there is a life event, including marriage, divorce, birth, or changes in your financial situation. Keeping an estate plan updated ensures that it remains relevant to your life.

Seek help from an experienced estate planning attorney. An estate planning attorney will help you navigate the complexities of legal documentation, tax implications and probate. You’ll want to be sure that your estate plan aligns with state laws. The knowledge of an estate planning attorney will provide you with peace of mind, knowing you’ve done the right thing to protect your family and ensure your legacy.

Reference: Market Business News (Oct. 28, 2023) “Crafting Your Legacy: 7 Steps in the Estate Planning Process”

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