You may have put your estate plan in place as long ago as the 1980s or 1990s. Most people seem to believe that once the documents have been signed, everything has been completed and the plan will work as expected. In fact, both state and federal laws have changed since then, and thousands of lawsuits in the area of estates and trusts have resulted in written caselaw that could affect whether your documents will work as intended.
If you haven’t had your plan reviewed in the last three to five years, it is probably time for a checkup! Here are a few of the questions to address:
- Have your personal circumstances changed?
- Have you retired?
- Do you still live in the same place?
- Are you still married to the same person, or have you divorced and remarried, so that now you have a blended family?
- Have your children grown up and married?
- Are their marriages solid, or has anyone been divorced?
- Do you now have grandchildren?
- Has anyone become dependent on you financially?
- Do any family members have special needs?
- Has your wealth increased to the point where your estate could be subject to estate taxes or death taxes? Do you know what the dollar amount is that would make your estate taxable?
- If you have become wealthier, what types of assets do you own? Your homestead? A vacation home? Investment property? Substantial retirement accounts? Investment accounts? Life insurance? Collections of art, musical instruments, antiques, jewelry, or other valuable property?
- Does anyone have a list of all of your assets and where they are located?
- Have you sold a business?
- Have you come into an inheritance?
- If you have a trust, have you transferred your assets into that trust, or will they have to be transferred to your beneficiaries through a probate proceeding?
- Is the person you appointed still the best person to act as your executor, trustee, attorney-in-fact, and health care surrogate?
- Do your documents include first and second successors or alternates to serve in those important roles?
- Have you executed a HIPAA release, so that your family members can access your medical records and discuss them with doctors and other caregivers?
- Has your estate planning attorney recently reviewed your beneficiary designations for your insurance policies and financial accounts to be sure they are up to date and accurate?
- If you have a trust, does it provide for lump sum distributions to beneficiaries once they reach a certain age? This is no longer the best strategy for protecting inheritances from creditors and predators.
- Do your documents include provisions covering electronic and/or digital accounts, including your utility companies, banks, credit card companies, social media accounts, photos on your phone, financial accounts, and professional organizations?
- Do your will, trust, and power of attorney authorize someone to access and manage all of those digital assets and accounts?
- Do you have plans in place for your pets?
- Do you have plans in place regarding your firearms?
- Do you have Medicare planning?
- Do your documents address these questions:
- What happens if a minor is a beneficiary?
- Who will raise your minor children if both parents are incapacitated or have passed away?
- If you are in a blended family, are both your wife and your children from a former marriage provided for?
- Are your assets protected from creditors and predators?
- What will happen to my business if I become incapacitated or suddenly die?
- May my attorney-in-fact under my Power of Attorney make gifts to himself or herself? May he or she make deals with my assets that are beneficial to himself or herself?
- May my trustee make gifts to himself or herself? May he or she engage in self-dealing with my trust assets?
Consult an estate planning attorney to go through these questions with you. Does your plan need to be updated?
Natalie A. Roberts
THIS ARTICLE IS PROVIDED FOR GENERAL INFORMATION PURPOSES ONLY AND SHOULD NOT BE CONSIDERED LEGAL ADVICE OR RELIED UPON AS COMPLIANCE, LEGAL, OR TAX ADVICE. LEGAL ADVICE IS NOT PROVIDED IN THE ABSENCE OF AN ENGAGEMENT AGREEMENT FOR A SPECIFIC MATTER AND THE EXISTENCE OF AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN YOU AND FLAGSHIP LAW. LEGAL ADVICE WILL ALWAYS DEPEND UPON YOUR SPECIFIC SITUATION.