Like your vehicle, your estate plan needs occasional “servicing” if it is going to perform the way you want when you need it. Your estate plan is designed to accomplish your goals based upon your circumstances at the time (i.e. – your family, your assets, tax laws, etc) at the time it was created. Since your circumstances change over time, so should your plan.
It is unrealistic to expect a will drafted when you were a newlywed to be effective now that you have a family, or are divorced from your spouse, or are in retirement. Over the course of your lifetime, your estate plan will need check-ups, maintenance, adjustments, or maybe even replacing.
So, how do you know when it’s time to give your estate plan a check-up? Below is a list of “event” checkpoints which may prompt a change in your estate plan:
Event Changes Involving You and Your Spouse
- You marry, divorce or separate
- Your spouse dies
- Value of assets changes dramatically
- Change in business interests
- You buy real estate in another state
- Health issues (i.e. – potential need for in-home or institutional level care)
Changes Involving Your Family
- Birth or adoption
- Marriage or divorce
- Finances change
- Parent/relative becomes dependent on you
- Minor becomes adult
- Attitude toward you changes
- Health declines
- Family member dies
- Beneficiary has “special needs”
- Federal or state tax laws change
- Probate laws change
- Medicaid & health care (HIPAA) laws change
- You plan to move to a different state
- Your successor trustee, agent (under powers of attorney), guardian or administrator moves, becomes ill or is no longer a good choice
- You change your mind regarding your beneficiaries
Other Planning Tips
Many people have set up revocable living trusts to avoid the costs, delays and publicity of probate after they die. Unfortunately, many do not change titles (and beneficiary designations) of their assets to the name of their trusts. This process is called “funding” the trust. If you have not funded your living trust, any assets still titled in your name will have to go through probate – which defeats the one of the intended purposes using the trust.
You should review your estate plan every year. Set aside a specific time every year (your birthday, anniversary, family gathering) to review it. Keep the above events in mind each time you read through your documents. If you think a change may be in order, don’t write on your actual document. Contact your attorney who can make such changes with a simple amendment to your documents.
Where Are Your Estate Planning Documents?
Think for a few moments about what would happen if you became incapacitated or died today. Would your spouse, family and successor trustees know what to do? Would they know where to find your estate planning and health care documents? Do they know the names of your financial and legal advisors?
Keep the originals (titles, estate plan, health care documents) in one safe place like a fireproof safe. Don’t place them in a safe deposit box, because it may create access problems for your successor. Give copies of your signed health care documents to your physician and, at least, your primary designated agent.
Do they know what assets you own and where they are located? You don’t have to tell your family everything about your assets right now, but it is very important that they know where to find this information when they need it. So, organize it and let someone know where to find it. Our firm sells a Personal Affairs Organizer, to keep with your estate plan, that organizes your private information.