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While many would like to think that estate planning is something they can do once, check it off their list as “done”, put it in the drawer and not think about it for years, the reality is that for an estate plan to work properly, it should be reviewed and updated regularly. In fact, most people do such a poor job of keeping up with things on their own, that we’ve developed a formal maintenance program for our clients to ensure that their plan is reviewed and updated regularly.
Wondering if your plan is due for an update? Here’s a checklist to get you started in conducting an annual review of your plan:
- Make sure your estate planning documents are easily accessible. Check your fireproof safe, safety deposit box, or other location where you store the actual documents. In addition, make sure your electronic copies are where you last left them. You may have chosen to keep them on a CD or on your home computer, in any case, make sure they are still accessible. Additionally, make sure your heirs, executor, or trust administrator know where they are.
- Review your children’s long-term and short-term guardian nominations. Has anything happened either in your children’s lives or your guardian’s lives that may make you rethink things? Has the person (people) you’ve named as guardians moved, had a child, divorced, or remarried? If so, does this impact your decision? Have any changes happened that might make you rethink the people you named as short-term guardians?
- Did any of your children turn 18? If so, you need to make sure that they have the proper legal documents in place (read more here and here). They may not have many assets so they may not need a full-blown estate plan, but they will need a signed health care power of attorney and living trust in case something happens to them. Without these legal documents in place, you may not be able to speak for them.
- Update, review, or consider a pet trust. If you currently have a pet trust, has anything happened that would make you rethink it? Did something happen to your pet that may mean there are more medical expenses than you thought? Did you get a new pet this year that you want to be sure will be cared for if something happens to you?
- Think through the last year and list any substantial assets you may have acquired. If you have new assets, make sure they are transferred into your trust. If they aren’t, those assets could end up in probate even though you thoughtfully created a trust to avoid this.
- Review and think about your asset distribution. Does your trust still reflect your wishes for how you would like to distribute your assets? Again, life events such as births, deaths, marriage and divorce may impact the decisions you made about this.
- Check your insurance policies. Does your life insurance still reflect an amount that would support your family if something happens to you? Has something happened in the past year that would require you raise that amount?
- Are you still happy with your decision regarding who should administer your estate? Is he or she still willing to accept this duty? Has anything happened in the last year that would make you wonder whether this person is still able to perform this function? If you are in doubt, you may consider discussing the person you chose and make changes if necessary.
- Update your family’s legacy. Each year you should update your written legacy whether it is in writing or recorded. Be sure to note family member milestones and accomplishments. This will most likely be the most valuable part of your estate plan so be sure to spend time on this. If you recorded a Priceless Conversation as part of your plan, is it time to record another and begin building a legacy library?
As I tell my clients, your estate plan is really a life plan that must be updated as your life changes. While every change in your life doesn’t mean that you need to update your estate plan, it is important to think through the past year’s events and experiences to make sure that your estate plan will still take care of your family as you intended.
If you find you want or need to make any changes to your estate plan, please remember to call our office at (919)443-3035 so we can assist you with making sure your plan accurately reflects your wishes.