If you completed your estate plan in 2017, congratulations! You are ahead of the 55 percent of Americans who do not have a will or other estate plan.
But estate plans are not a love-it-and-leave-it proposition. They require periodic review and maintenance as your circumstances change. You should have a scheduled time near the beginning or end of the year to complete this review. Even if you only take 15 minutes to confirm beneficiaries and account for current real estate, that is time well-spent to assure your plans still reflect your wishes.
A simple checklist is a good place to start. These items do not take long to consider and they can make a big difference in how your estate is managed.
Where is your will or trust document?
Know the location of the original will. If it is in a safety deposit box, give an extra key to your executor. Trust documents should be in a secure place. But confirm that location so that you are not hiding them from yourself.
Keep all the documents together. Wills, powers of attorney, and advance health directives need to be in one place with copies provided to your appointed agents.
Are beneficiaries, executors, guardians, and trustees correct?
Changes in family circumstances may require adjustments in beneficiaries and appointments. You may designate your oldest child as executor only to have them move across the country. A relative or friend who lives closer and understands your situation may be a better choice. Similar developments may make other individuals better candidates for guardians and trustees.
The same is true for beneficiaries. You may find a child who was once self-sufficient is now unable to work due to a disability. A new child or grandchild also affects beneficiaries. Adjusting your non-probate assets to reflect these needs may create a more desirable estate plan.
Death also changes the nature of these appointments. If your spouse passed away and is still designated as the agent in your Power of Attorney, you may want to consider redrafting that document with a new agent.
What has changed?
Assess life changes over the last year. If you quit your job to run a small business, your estate plan is no longer relevant. While beneficiaries, executors, and agents may remain the same, you now have to plan for business succession. Also, a Power of Attorney may need to be expanded to include business functions.
The same is true if you divorce, remarry or welcome an additional child. Major events should warrant an immediate review of your estate plan although that may not have occurred to you at the time. So, accomplish this now. You do not want to leave a former spouse as a life insurance beneficiary when your current spouse could use those immediate funds upon your death.
Changes in income and major property acquisitions will also affect estate plans. Becoming a homeowner, purchasing business property or receiving a large inheritance can affect the value of your estate. Depending on the type of income and property growth, you may need to consider a trust or lifetime gifts.
Are all affected people notified?
Estate plans do not help if they remain secret. Even if you let people know that you completed an estate plan, you may have overlooked a few details.
For example, you may keep your original documents in a safety deposit box and allow your executor access. But if only your executor knows of this fact, it could cause hysteria if that individual is not immediately available to answer questions. Identify your executor but also provide location information for the documents whether that is a safety deposit box or a locked file drawer.
Share information about beneficiaries on life insurance policies and 401Ks, too. Beneficiaries will have an easier time taking possession of proceeds if you provide account and policy details.
Even if you believe you shared this information before, it does not hurt to share it again. While you could receive an eye-roll or two, at least you can rest assured that everyone is current on your estate plan.
If you find it is time to revise your estate plan, make an appointment with a dedicated and knowledgeable estate planning attorney. Contact Diane L. Gruber to schedule a consultation.