So you have done the hard work of establishing an estate plan. Good for you! However, you still have serious work to do to ensure that the strategy you have selected will maximize your peace of mind and protect your legacy.
Estate plans should be like living, breathing creations that reflect the changes in your life. Your life can and will change due to new births, children getting older, and other shifts in the family; changes to your investment portfolio, career and business; and changes to your health, where you live, and your core values. Likewise, external events, such as new tax legislation passed in your state or the development of a novel financial instrument, can throw your plan off track or open the door to new opportunities.
Once you have established an estate plan, it’s not uncommon for us to feel like we have just checked a box and secure it away. But, as we all know, our circumstances are ever evolving. When we are busy adapting to change, updating an estate plan is not always on our mind. However, changes in your family dynamic or outside legal changes can affect your plan. Taking the time to reassess your existing plan can make sure your plan is up to date with your needs.
Obviously, you should do due diligence without spending inordinate amounts of time noodling over your plan. To that end, ask yourself the following “stress test” questions to assess whether you need to meet with an estate planning attorney to update your approach:
1. When was the last time you updated your will or living trust? Since then, have you had new children or gotten divorced? Have you moved to a new state, opened or sold a business, or just changed your mind about the type of legacy you want to leave behind? Especially if big, tangible life events have occurred, strongly consider updating your documents as soon as possible. Also keep in mind that there may have been changes in the law since your last update that could significantly affect the viability of your plan.
2. Who have you named as executor and trustee? If you had to start your planning over from scratch today, would you still name the same people? If not, why not? Did you choose the best person for the job or was your choice based on less relevant factors? Is the person you chose still available to serve in that role?
3. Do you have adequate insurance? Many people do not have enough insurance for themselves or their businesses. They also fail to name contingent beneficiaries. Get your insurance policies in order, and make sure your designations match your estate plan.
4. How much of your property is jointly owned with someone other than your spouse? Jointly owned property has the potential to be double taxed. Take a look at your real property and seek advice on the proper adjustments to make in order to save on taxes when it's really necessary to save on taxes.
5. How's your record keeping? Nothing drives an executor crazy like sloppy record keeping.
6. When was the last time you gave your plan a thorough once-over? Even if nothing “huge” has happened in your life recently, if it’s been over five years since a qualified estate planning attorney has assessed your strategy, schedule a time to meet. Identify any issues, and iron out the kinks one at a time.
After going through the “stress test,” if you have any questions, please feel free to give us a call. Estate planning is an ongoing process, and we want to make sure your wishes withstand the test of time.