Considering end of life planning is never an easy task to confront. But when you reframe it as one of the last legacies we leave our loved ones, it helps to underline the importance of ensuring you have an estate plan in place. But one thing people often overlook, is that once you have an estate plan, it’s crucial you keep it up to date.
Different from your will, your estate plan is a guideline to be used at your death or disability to determine what should happen to your assets, and who should take care of your dependents. A typical estate plan should be reviewed at least every three years. But there are also lots of changes that can require you to update your estate plan more frequently to better suit your needs.
When to Update Your Estate Plan
"The only constant in life is change." – Heraclitus
First things first, if you have an existing estate plan, make sure you know where your documents actually are. Store them in a safe and secure plan, and make sure the correct people (trustees, fiduciaries, beneficiaries) can access the documents if something were to happen to you.
Estate planning laws aren’t national; each state has its own laws. So if you are moving to a new state, it’s important to make sure to check that your estate plan is valid under the laws of your new domicile.
State laws vary on other elements of the estate plan, too. Your power of attorney, advanced medical directives and living will among others will all need to be updated for your new state, or you risk them becoming ineffective.
If your financial picture has changed significantly since you last updated your estate plan, it is important to make sure that the plan you currently have in place continues to be appropriate. Below are a few common asset-related changes that could require a change in your estate plan.
- Bought or sold a home
- Owning homes in more than one state
- You expect your estate will exceed your unused federal estate and gift tax exclusion amount (maximum $12.06 million, or $24.12 million if you are married)
A healthcare power of attorney is an important component of your estate plan. This legal document allows you to empower another person to make decisions about your medical care in the event that you are incapacitated in any way. It should be updated any time you experience changes in your health, or the ways in which you would like to be treated.
You may also require a HIPAA HIPAA authorization. This document allows you to give permission for certain entities to use your protected health information for specified purposes, which are generally other than treatment, payment, or health care operations, or to disclose protected health information to a third party specified by the individual. Again, this should be reviewed any time there is a change in your health.
For so many reasons, the people that you might want to include in your estate plan can change over time, and it’s important to make sure the correct people are named (or not) in your estate plan documents.
If you have children under age 18, you will need to appoint or change the named Guardian and/or Trustee. A guardian is in charge of the care of the child, while the trustee would be in charge of the funds set aside for that child.
They can be the same person, but do not need to be. Ideally, you would determine who would be better equipped to take care of your child for the guardian and choose someone who is equipped to handle finances to be the trustee.
Successors are incredibly important, and you’ll want to determine what you want to happen if one party in a couple selected as either a guardian or trustee dies. If you have an adult child, consider talking to them about implementing their own POA (General and Health Care).
Change in Marital Status
A marriage would require you to make a decision about how you’re handling your finances, especially if you’re the breadwinner. If you have a premarital agreement, you need to ensure that your estate plan is in alignment with this.
A divorce is likely to change your assets and liabilities, as would the incapacity or death of a spouse. If anyone named in your estate plan experiences any of these changes (disability, death, etc.), you should make sure that you understand how these changes affect your estate plan.
Oftentimes, the appropriate documents are in place, but the follow-up actions don’t get completed. For example, if a trust needs to be funded during your life, having the documents in place to create the trust is only step one.
The most important piece of this plan is to make sure that your assets are in the trust, by naming the trust the beneficiary on any accounts that you want included in your trust.
Some accounts, like retirement accounts and life insurance policies, pass by beneficiary designation. This means that regardless of what your will says, the beneficiary listed for these accounts will be the beneficiary at your death, so it’s crucial to make sure these are up to date.
Don’t forget to check some commonly overlooked accounts, like your checking and savings accounts. In many cases, it might make sense to own these types of accounts jointly. Assets that are jointly owned or TOD/POD pass by survivorship.
This will ensure that when you pass, someone else can still have access to and control of this account. What if something were to happen to you and the joint owner at the same time? To mitigate this risk, it makes sense to include a POD/TOD on your accounts.
Regardless of the account type, make sure the correct beneficiary is named and that you understand how the assets will pass to this beneficiary.
Check Your Estate Plan Regularly
While it’s important to update your estate plan when there is a significant change in your life, checking in with your estate plan on a regular basis can ensure that nothing slips through the cracks.
Many of the events that affect your estate plan also dramatically affect your day-to-day life. It can be easy to be so involved in the daily tasks of caring for a newborn, for example, that you can forget they need to be included in your estate plan.
We can help you navigate your life’s changes, and ensure your financial and estate plans are aligned with your current situation, and your goals for the future. Please do get in touch to help ensure you leave the right kind of legacy for your loved ones.