By Jon L. Ten Haagen
An estate plan is a map that explains how you want your personal and financial affairs to be handled in the event of your incapacity or death. It allows you to control what happens to your property if you die or become incapacitated. An estate plan should be reviewed periodically.
When should you review your estate plan?
Although there is no hard-and-fast rule about when you should review your estate plan, the following may be of some help:
• You should review your estate plan immediately after a major life event.
• You’ll probably want to do a quick review each year because changes in the economy and in the tax code often occur on a yearly basis
• You’ll want to do a more thorough review every five years
• Reviewing your estate plan will alert you to changes that need to be addressed.
• There will be times when you’ll need to make changes to your plan to ensure that it still meets your goals. For example, an executor, trustee, or guardian may die or change his or her mind about serving in that capacity, and you’ll need to name someone else.
Events that trigger a periodic review include:
There has been a change in your marital status (many states have laws that revoke part or all of or part of your will if you marry or get divorced) or that of your children or grandchildren.
• There has been an addition to your family through birth, adoption, or marriage (stepchildren).
• Your spouse or a family member has died, has become ill, or is incapacitated.
• Your spouse, your parents, or other family member has become dependent on you.
• There has been a substantial change in the value of your assets or in your plans for their use
• You have received a sizeable inheritance or gift.
• Your income level or requirements have changed
• You are retiring.
• You have made, or are considering making, a change to any part of your estate plan.
Some things to review
Here are some things to consider while doing a periodic review of your estate plan:
• Who are your family members and friends? How do you feel about them?
• Do you have a valid will? Does it reflect your current goals and objectives about who receives what after you die? Does your choice of an executor or a guardian for your minor children remain appropriate?
• In the event you become incapacitated, do you have a living will, durable power of attorney for health care, or Do Not Resuscitate order to manage medical decisions?
• In the event you become incapacitated, do you have a living trust, durable power of attorney, or joint ownership to manage your property?
• What property do you own and how is it titled (e.g., outright or jointly with right of survivorship)? Property owned jointly with a right of survivorship passes automatically to the surviving owner(s) at your death.
• Have you reviewed your beneficiary designations for your retirement plans and life insurance policies? These types of property pass automatically to the designated beneficiary at your death.
• Do you have any trusts, living or testamentary? Property held in a trust passes to beneficiaries according to the terms of the trust.
• Do you plan to make any lifetime gifts to family or friends?
• Do you have any plans for charitable gifts or bequests?
• If you own or co-own a business, have provisions been made to transfer your business interest? Is there a buy sell agreement with adequate funding? Would lifetime gifts be appropriate?
• Do you own sufficient life insurance to meet your needs at death? Have these needs been evaluated?
• Have you considered the impact of gift, estate, generation skipping, and income taxes, both federal and state?
This is just a brief overview of some ideas for a periodic review of your estate plan. Each person’s situation is unique. An estate planning attorney may be able to assist you with this process. You may want to include your other financial advisors in this process.