The New Year often brings reflection and goal setting. Many of us set business goals and health goals. But how many people set goals to review and update their estate plans? Just as people make personal health related resolutions such as exercising more and losing weight, so too should people look at the health of their estate planning documents. Through the estate planning process, people are looking to provide for their immediate family, provide for other relatives and/or friends, pass property to beneficiaries quickly, ease the strain on the family following death, minimize expenses, reduce estate taxes, plan for retirement, plan for incapacity, achieve philanthropic goals and plan for business succession.
Many people create Wills when their first child is born. Perhaps they do a full blown estate plan at that time which includes powers of attorney and health care documents. But then they stick these documents in a drawer and do not look at them again until that baby is married.
When documents do not reflect current circumstances, unwanted results can occur. The wrong people may inherit your assets. The wrong people may be taking care of your minor children or their money. You could be exposed to estate taxes on either or both of the federal or state levels. Additionally, you could be leaving assets to someone who is disabled and receiving government benefits who will lose those benefits because of the inheritance.
As part of your New Year’s resolution process, each one of us should review existing estate planning documents and all beneficiary designations to make sure that no changes are needed. As part of this process, consider the following:
- Have your assets increased/decreased since you last made your Will? Have you acquired or disposed of a significant asset?
- Have there been any illnesses, deaths, births, adoptions, marriages or divorces in your extended family?
- Has getting older affected any named beneficiary’s behavior or lifestyle?
- Does anyone in your extended family have special needs
- Has anyone in your extended family moved?
- Are you still happy with whom you’ve named as Executors, Trustees and as Guardians?
- Has there been a change in employment for either of you?
If you have answered yes to any of the above questions, you may need to revise your current documents and you should contact your attorney to schedule a time to discuss your estate plan and any changes you may need to make.
Taking the time to review your plan and give it a “well baby checkup” can lead to starting the New Year off on the right foot!