Estate planning is not a once-in-a-lifetime check-the-box thing. What is for sure is that your life is going to change and the law is going to change. A variety of things can come up that will make your estate plan outdated, and any time this happens, the best course of action is calling your estate planning attorney to chat about an update.
So how might your plan end up outdated? Take a look:
1. You’ve had a birthday.
Not just any birthday – but a birthday that makes you contemplate your future and the desires you have for yourself and your loved ones. Any time you’re reflecting on what kind of future you want for your family or loved ones, consider revisiting your estate plan to ensure your current preferences are adequately enshrined in your plan.
It’s not uncommon that parents select a guardian when their children are very young, only to never update their plan until their children are off to college. When reviewing their plan 20 years later, they express a sigh of relief when they remember who they named and say, “Whew, thank goodness nothing happened! I don’t even keep in touch with them anymore.
2. You’ve bought real estate or you’ve had another major change in your asset picture or financial status.
Any time your asset picture changes is a good time to check in with your estate planning attorney. If you have a trust, newly acquired real estate is automatically protected from probate without extra steps with your attorney. It’s also important to keep beneficiary designations up-to-date on any accounts opened since you signed your plan.
3. You’ve had another child or a fiduciary has passed away.
If you’ve had a child since you last updated your estate plan, a well-drafted estate plan will cover future-born children – but you always want to be sure so a check-in will help ease your mind. If a beneficiary or fiduciary named in your estate plan has died, then you should update your plan to remove the deceased person’s name. If you don’t, then years from now your Personal Representative or Successor Trustee will have to track down an original death certificate for the deceased person, and this can become time-consuming and costly. If your spouse has died, then your plan may need to take on a whole new structure.
4. You’ve gotten married or divorced.
A change in your marital status will require significant changes to your estate plan. If you’ve recently married, then a whole new set of gift and estate tax planning opportunities have become available to you and your new spouse. Some of these new options will depend on where you live and where you own real estate. Or, if you’ve recently divorced, then your estate plan should be updated to insure that your former spouse is removed as a beneficiary and fiduciary and you’ll also need to update the beneficiary designations for your life insurance and retirement plans, including IRAs and 401(k)’s to ensure that your spouse is removed there as well.
5. You’ve started, purchased, or sold a business.
If you have recently started or purchased a business, you should meet with your estate planning attorney to ensure that your estate plan is structured properly to deal with the business if you become disabled or after you die, and also to put together a comprehensive business exit plan. On the other hand, if you’ve recently sold a business, then you should meet with your attorney to ensure that your plan is properly structured now that you don’t own a business, that the sale proceeds are titled in the name of your trust if you have one, and to determine if your estate is no longer, or has become, taxable. If it has become taxable, then you’ll need to figure out how the taxes will be paid as well as ways to minimize the estate tax bill.
6. You’ve moved to a new state.
Moving to a new state is one of the most important reasons to update your estate plan by meeting with an estate planning attorney in your new state. Why? Because state laws dictate what estate planning documents need to include and how they need to be signed. The last thing that you want is for your estate plan that would have worked well in your old state to be declared ineffective or simply invalid in your new state because of one wrong provision or one missing signature.
Aside from this, if you move from a state that imposes an estate tax to one that doesn’t, or vice versa, then your plan will need to be updated to take into consideration this change in the taxable status of your estate. Or if you’ve moved to or from a community property state, this can affect your estate plan significantly in ways you don’t intend.
7. A beneficiary or fiduciary has gotten married or divorced.
If you’ve selected a couple to serve as guardian for your children and they later get divorced, you should update your estate plan as soon as possible in light of this change. Or if a couple is named anywhere throughout your estate plan to serve together, such as in the role of Successor Trustees, then their divorce necessitates an update to your estate plan. It’s important to keep in touch with your fiduciaries so you know about changes in their lives that may change your preferences about what your estate plan dictates for the future of your family and loved ones.