Spring is just around the corner. As you take time to refresh your home and garden, take the opportunity to look over your estate plan as well. Here is a checklist to help you review your estate planning documents.
An estate plan should be periodically reviewed to make sure it is up to date, typically every five years or sooner if there is a major life event. Major changes that may affect your estate plan include births, deaths, divorce, substantial changes in your assets or holdings, major changes to your health or your health care needs, or similar changes in the lives of your beneficiaries.
A key part of any estate plan is who you name as your fiduciaries (decision-makers), including agents, executors, trustees, and guardians. Depending on your current life and family situation, the most appropriate individuals for those roles may have changed since your estate planning documents were created. If you get married you may want to have your spouse in those roles or remove them if you get divorced. If you have children, as they get older you may feel that the time is right to have your children as decision-makers for you (or as alternates after your spouse) rather than your parent or sibling.
A change in assets can often require an update to your estate plan. For example, if you have a trust and then you receive an inheritance from someone (perhaps a parent), you may need to update your trust or transfer the assets to make sure that it follows the rest of your estate plan. If you have an irrevocable asset protection trust or a revocable trust, it is always important to make sure that the right assets are transferred to your trust.
If you own a home in an irrevocable trust and you are thinking about selling, it is essential to make sure that the transaction is handled properly so you do not inadvertently break the trust. Typically, the trust would sell your existing home, deposit those funds in a trust account, and use those funds to purchase your new property. It is important to consult your estate planning attorney to get legal advice before you go forward with any sale.
It is essential that everyone has a last will and testament, which is a legal document that directs the disposition of your estate after your death. If you pass away without a will, your estate will be distributed under the default intestacy rules in New York. For example, if you were survived by a spouse and children, the first $50,000 passes to your spouse, and the remainder is divided half to your spouse and half to your children, including minor children. Many people would instead prefer their assets to pass all to their spouse. If you do not have a spouse or children, generally your estate would pass to your closest living relatives (parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, cousins, etc.). This may not be who you want to inherit from you. That is why it is important for everyone to have a Will that reflects their wishes and why a Will is the cornerstone of estate planning documents.
Over time, however, those wishes may change, requiring that your Will be updated. Perhaps your children are getting older and you want to make sure they receive their inheritance directly and no longer require a guardian or trustee. Or maybe you have had additional children or grandchildren that you would like included in your estate plan.
Over time, your desired beneficiaries may change. This applies to your Will as well as the beneficiaries you designate directly on certain financial assets such as retirement plans, IRAs, 401(k)s, annuities, and life insurance. A marriage or divorce can certainly influence who you would like to inherit your assets and may require adding or removing a spouse as beneficiary.
If you have children or grandchildren, your desires for inheritance among them may change. If you have additional children you may wish to include them. Perhaps one of your children requires some additional protection either because they are a child with special needs, have difficulties with finances, an impending divorce, or other issues that requires a trust to be established for their benefit.
Other changes in family relationships may necessitate adjustments in beneficiaries if you were planning to leave your assets to other family members such as siblings, nieces and nephews, or cousins. Relationships are fluid and you may decide you want to add, remove, or adjust some of your beneficiary designations.
Your loved ones will need to access your estate planning documents (such as a power of attorney or health care proxy) in an emergency, so you should make sure you keep your documents in a safe place (a locked drawer or cabinet) that they have access to. We do not suggest you keep your estate planning documents in a safe deposit box. For our clients, we offer the Cona Elder Law Online Document Vault, which allows our clients and their trusted appointed agents 24/7 access to electronic copies of their estate planning documents. This is one benefit of creating a strong attorney-client relationship.
Estate plans need change, but so can the laws and regulations that affect estate planning and elder law. For example, last year New York changed the Power of Attorney laws. The Long Island estate planning attorneys at Cona Elder Law are constantly monitoring changes in the law to make sure our clients have the best and most current legal advice. Contact us today to schedule a consultation for your estate planning review.
Cona Elder Law is a full service law firm based in Melville, LI. Our firm concentrates in the areas of elder law, estate planning, estate administration and litigation, special needs planning and health care facility representation. We are proud to have been recognized for our innovative strategies, creative techniques and unparalleled negotiating skills unendingly driven toward our paramount objective - satisfying the needs of our clients.
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