Oh my, time really does fly! How is it June already? It doesn’t seem possible! Remember that list of things you want to get done in 2022, including reviewing your estate plan to make sure that it is up to date? Well, you have another half year to get there. Don’t worry, though, just get it done – and soon! With time flying the way that it is, now is a great time to check in with yourself and any important documents that might need tending to. As estate planning attorneys, we generally encourage our clients to review their estate plans every 3-5 years or after major life events. But what does this mean? And how does one make a worthwhile review and determine what they might need to change? Don’t stress. We have prepared a quick and handy mid-year questionnaire below to provide you with helpful prompts to guide you in this endeavor. And, as always, we are just a phone call away if you would like to schedule an appointment to discuss with us. Remember - this is your declaration of what you want to happen to everything you own after you pass; it’s important!
- When is the last time I reviewed my will? If your answer to this is pre-COVID, it’s time to dust off your will and give it a good read. Also, “pre-COVID” is anything prior to 2020 – and 2019 was three years ago! If you haven’t completed a review yet, you meet both prongs for review: 3+ years old and have been through a major life event!
- Do I have a guardian designated for my kids? If you have minor children, this might be the most meaningful part of your estate plan. In your will, you need to designate a guardian to take care of your children if something happens to you. It’s also important to communicate this to your intended guardian and make sure they are on board with this significant (and special) responsibility. You also want to make sure that you have not previously nominated the wrong person. Relationships change over the years. Make sure that your kids would be cared for by somebody that you trust!
- Do I have a power of attorney? A power of attorney (POA) gives a trusted person of your choosing the ability to act on your behalf with respect to your assets if you are unable to do so. A power of attorney is a must in your estate plan, and the person you appoint into this role should be somebody that you trust with your money as they will have access to all you own. If you review your POA you discover that your appointed person is no longer trustworthy (when did they develop that gambling problem?), have aged out (sorry mom…) or is no longer a good choice due to other circumstances, it is time for a change.
- Do I have an advance directive? If there is anything we learned from a global pandemic, it’s that everyone needs an advance directive. This legal document of monumental importance spells out your medical wishes. With an advance directive, you avoid confusion for family and plan for end-of-life care. This document guides your healthcare if you become unable to communicate your wishes. As with your power of attorney, you want to review your nominations to make sure the persons that you have appointed to care for you are people that your trust with your life – literally! In addition, maybe your thoughts on how you want your end-of-life care handled have changed, as they commonly due over time and as people age. Make sure that this document is up to date and reflects your current wishes.
- Do I have/need a trust? As with a will, a revocable living trust (shortened to simply "trust" here) also allows you to state your directives about the distribution of your assets. The difference is that when you create a trust, you are creating an entity in which to transfer your assets. Key benefits of creating a trust include avoiding probate and maintaining your privacy. Trusts are not for everyone and it is good to consider a cost/benefit analysis of whether or not to do one. As you age and (hopefully) accumulate more wealth it may be time to consider whether or not the time has come to switch from your basic will to a more comprehensive plan that includes a trust. Also, the pandemic really slowed down the court system, including the probate court, for many months causing delays in probate estates but not with trusts as these do not have to go through that system. Hmm…
- When is the last time I reviewed my beneficiary designations? Beneficiary designations related to life insurance policies, retirements accounts and investment accounts should be reviewed periodically to make sure they’re consistent with your will and wishes. This is especially important when there is a change in employment or a major life change such as birth, death or divorce (I just saw a retirement account go to a deceased’s ex-spouse due to a lack of change in designation after a divorce – not a desirable outcome!). Maintaining beneficiaries on these accounts is important so that these assets are distributed to your intended recipients.
- Have any major changes occurred in my life? Have you gotten married or divorced? Had children? Have you moved? Changed careers? Have you had a family member pass away who was named in your estate planning documents? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it’s time to schedule a visit to your estate planning attorney. It’s critical that your documents reflect these major events in your life.
In short, many life changes coupled with the passing of time prompt the need to revisit your documents. If you find that you’re in this camp, don’t delay in getting in to see your estate planning attorney. Peace of mind for the second half of 2022 is waiting on the other side of this necessary task.