Reviewing Your Estate Plan
Once you finally have an estate plan in place, the temptation may be to store away the documents in a safe location and forget about them. However, this can be a dangerous and foolish mistake. While it is not necessary for most people to schedule an "estate plan checkup" in the same manner as, say, a routine dental checkup, it is prudent to review your plan from time to time to ensure it still meets your needs. You should consider an estate plan review if:
- Your family or friends have changed. Your estate plan should reflect your current relationships. Obviously if a primary beneficiary has died, your spouse has filed for divorce, or your executor has moved away or is otherwise no longer physically and mentally suited to perform his duties, it is time to revisit your estate plan. Perhaps you have a new baby, or your child is now mature enough that a trust would no longer be necessary. Is one of your beneficiaries struggling with alcohol, drugs, or uncontrolled spending habits? Failure to account for such matters in your estate plan may result in unnecessary complications.
- Your financial status has changed. One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to estate planning. A skilled estate planning attorney will carefully consider many factors in order to avoid or minimize taxes, preserve wealth for your descendants, and simplify the management of your estate. If your net worth has changed significantly, or if you have acquired or disposed of land or other valuable assets, some of the original assumptions and conclusions may no longer be valid. Additionally, it is sometimes necessary to include specific asset descriptions in your planning documents, so your plan will not operate as intended if it does not accurately reflect your current assets.
- Your "non-probate assets" have changed. When you die, you will probably have both "probate assets" (those passing according to your will) and "non-probate assets" (those passing via a beneficiary designation, such as life insurance, retirement benefits, annuities, and "pay on death" or "right of survivorship" accounts). If you have opened or re-titled any accounts, insurance, or other investments, you may have designated someone to receive the proceeds on your death. It is a good idea to double-check these beneficiary designations to ensure they reflect your current wishes and are otherwise consistent with the rest of your estate plan.
- You have moved. The laws of each state are different. In most cases, the law of the state where you are residing will determine the validity of your estate planning documents. If you have moved to a new state since you last updated your estate plan, you should have your documents reviewed by an attorney in the state of your new residence to determine whether any changes are necessary in order to comply with the laws of that state.
- Your plan is several years old. If it has been more than ten years since you last reviewed your plan, you might want to consider a checkup. Even if your finances and family situation are largely unchanged, changes in the tax laws may affect the validity of your documents, or the tax consequences of your plan.
Some people are hesitant to have their estate plans updated because they do not want to incur additional cost. If you are such a person, we suggest you consider two points.
- If your plan is outdated, it may be worse than having no plan at all. It makes no sense to invest in an estate plan in the first place if it will not ultimately serve your needs. Just as routine maintenance can prevent costly car repairs, a small investment in periodically updating your plan will help to ensure that it meets your objectives at the proper time.
- You should be able to trust your estate planning lawyer to look out for your interests. If you mistrust a mechanic or a plumber, you seek a better service rather than suffering with a faulty system. Likewise, if you find yourself worrying that your lawyer charges unreasonable fees, or that he does unnecessary work just to increase the legal fees, you should reconsider your relationship with that lawyer--not delay in attending to your important legal affairs.
At Roberts & Roberts, we are frequently asked to review estate plans. Often, we are able to advise the client that no changes are necessary. (Thanks to our investment in practical technology, if we prepared the plan we can even access the closed file and answer basic questions while the client is still on the phone.) In those cases where a change may be advisable, we clearly explain the problem and outline the available solutions so our client can make an informed decision whether to order the work.
Time and again our clients tell us that they find real value in our service. To see why, please call for an appointment.