Many people understand the importance of creating estate plans. Well-drafted estate plans not only give directions for distributing a person’s assets after he or she dies, they also allow a person to provide for loved ones after passing on, name guardians for minor children, give instructions on the extent of medical care he or she wishes to receive if incapacitated and appoint others to make important decisions on his or her behalf in the event of incapacity. However, after doing the initial work of estate planning, all too often people put their plans away and do not think about them again. Estate planning is an ongoing process, and as people’s lives change they need to update their estate plans to reflect their new circumstances.
Changes to Relationships
As time passes, people develop new relationships with others. Major life events such as marriage, divorce, the birth or adoption of a child or the death of a spouse should trigger an estate plan review. People need to make sure that they update their wills to properly include new children and spouses and choose new heirs instead of ex-spouses.
Additionally, people should review non-probate assets such as trusts, life insurance policies, IRAs, 401(k)s and other investment accounts to ensure that the beneficiaries named on these assets are still in alignment with their wishes. A person’s will does not control theses assets, so even if a person removes someone as an heir in a will, if the person is still named as beneficiary on an asset, that person will receive it.
Changes in Assets
As people go through life, they tend to collect more property and assets. When people create their first estate plans, they may not have to worry about their estates approaching the cut-off for the estate tax. However, as people grow older and have more wealth, they may need to develop strategies to avoid estate taxes such as establishing trusts, making charitable donations and giving tax-free gifts while still alive.
People may also make specific bequests of personal property that has great sentimental value to family or friends in order to eliminate fighting among surviving loved ones after they die. As they get older, children may voice desires to inherit particular items their parents own, and parents can honor those wishes by including it in their wills.
Changes to Goals
As people age, they may shift their priorities. During their younger years, people may be primarily concerned with ensuring that their minor children would be secure if they passed. As they get older, people may feel like they have more disposable funds and want to make bequests to charity in their wills. People may also feel that their intended heirs could make better use of the money presently, for things such as education expenses or starting a business, rather than having to wait, and decide to make a lifetime gift instead.
Changes in Laws
Tax and estate planning laws change frequently. People need to meet with estate planners to ensure that their plans take full advantage of any tax benefits and to review other documents such as advanced health care directives and trust documents to make sure they comply with the law.
Estate plans need regular maintenance to be effective. If you have questions about drafting or updating an estate plan, contact a seasoned estate planning attorney who can discuss your situation and advise you on how to meet your goals with your estate plan.