Estate plans are almost magical: they allow you to maintain control of your assets, yet protect you if you become incapacitated. They take care of your family and even your pets. And, if carefully crafted, they reduce fees, taxes, stress, and delays. Estate plans can even keep your family and financial affairs private. But one thing estate plans can’t do is update themselves.
Estate plans are written to reflect your situation at a specific point in time. While they have some flexibility, the bottom line is that our lives continually change and unfold in ways we might not have ever anticipated. Your plan needs to reflect those changes.
We recommend an annual review of your estate plan to identify any gaps. Consider the following:
- Marriage, divorce, or death. Marriage, remarriage, divorce, and death all require substantial changes to an estate plan. Think of all the roles a spouse plays in our lives. This is the time to reevaluate beneficiaries, trustees, successor trustees, executors or personal representatives, and agents under powers of attorney.
- Change in financial status. A substantial change in financial status—positive or negative—generally requires an estate plan update. These changes can be the result of events like launching, winding down, or selling a business; business and professional success; filing bankruptcy; suffering a medical crisis; retiring; receiving an inheritance; or, even winning the lottery.
- Birth, adoption, or death of a child or grandchild. The birth or adoption of a child or grandchild may call for the creation of gifting trusts, 529 education plans, gifting plans, and Uniform Gifts to Minors Act or Uniform Transfers to Minors Act accounts. You may also need to reevaluate beneficiaries, trustees, successor trustees, executors or personal representatives, and agents under powers of attorney.
- Other significant changes or events. Changes that may affect your estate plan include:
- Children and grandchildren become adults and can serve in trusted helper roles, like successor trustee, executor or personal representative, and agent under powers of attorney
- Relationships change and different trusted helpers need to be named
- Beneficiaries or trusted helpers develop overspending or drug or gambling habits
- Guardians, executors, or trustees are no longer able (or no longer wish) to serve in their previously assigned roles
- Beneficiaries become disabled and need a special needs trust to receive government benefits
- Guardians for minor children divorce, move to a new state, or are otherwise no longer appropriate to serve
- Record-keeping. Are your records up-to-date? Assist your agents and family by keeping up-to-date records of assets, contact information, bills, and the location of key documents.
- Funding. If you have a trust, funding should sound familiar, but you might not remember what it is or why it’s important. Now is a good time to review the titles of assets and payable-on-death designations. If you do not have a trust-based plan, you can still take advantage of payable-on-death designations to limit what assets pass through probate.
If this seems overwhelming, you’re not alone. It’s the reason we created JM LAW CARES, our estate and legacy planning maintenance program, so that we can help you keep your estate plan current and protect you and your loved ones. Membership in JM LAW CARES includes:
- An annual review with one of our attorneys
- Funding guidance
- Trust amendments to change your trustees or beneficiaries
- Annual updates to financial and medical powers of attorney
- Free notary service for any documents
- A family CARES summit
- A no-cost initial consultation with trustees for administration upon incapacity or death
JM LAW CARES members will also receive priority access to our legal team.
Estate plans are meant to evolve. If you’d like our help keeping your estate plan up-to-date, contact us about enrolling in JM LAW CARES, download our JM LAW CARES brochure for more information, or read more about JM LAW CARES on our website. To serve you best, only those who have completed their estate planning documents with JM LAW may participate in the JM LAW CARES program.
This post was created by Kristen House, a senior estate planning attorney at JM LAW.