This past year presented many challenges in so many ways, from losing loved ones, loss of jobs and income, isolation, social distancing, and the list goes on. However, as we embark into another New Year it also means another list of New Year’s Resolutions.
One resolution that should be at the top of everyone’s list is “Dealing with my estate plan.” Whether that means finally creating your estate plan, or simply reviewing and updating your plan, it does not matter. Take the time to make certain your estate plan still works for you.
Here is a basic idea of how to get started with this 2021 New Year’s resolution:
1. If you do not have estate planning documents. If you do not have a will, trust or powers of attorney, now is the time to get those documents in place. Give yourself and your family peace of mind.
2. Locate your existing estate planning documents. Many people have no idea where their estate planning documents are kept. Do you have originals or copies? If only copies, who has the originals? Do you keep them in a safety deposit box? Do you have electronic copies only?
For those of you who are able to put your hands on your documents, follow the remaining items on this list.
3. Review your estate planning documents. Reviewing your documents periodically is very important. As time goes by, your life changes. Reviewing your documents allows you to make sure your estate plan works for your current situation. Ensure that your documents comply and are reliable in the state in which you live.
A. How old are your documents? If your documents are more than 10 years old, chances are you are going to need to update at least some facet of them.
B. Assess your current situation. Since the creation of your estate planning documents, have you gotten divorced or married? Have you had any more children or grandchildren? Major health issues? Death in the family? Major financial issues? Children or grandchildren who have any major health or financial issues?
These life changes and others could significantly affect your estate plan.
For example, if you recently remarried, do your documents reflect the new spouse or do they still mention the old spouse? If you are no longer in contact with a child, are you still considering leaving them part of your estate? Have any of your named agents died?
It is important to review your existing plan regularly in order to ensure it will always meet your current goals.
C. Are you satisfied with your named agents? In all of your documents, are you still satisfied that those named are the best choices to handle your estate or make financial or healthcare decisions for you?
4. Review beneficiary designations. Another vital step to take when reviewing your estate plan is to review who you have named as death beneficiaries on your assets. For example, if your spouse is named as the primary beneficiary on your IRA, did you think to name a contingent beneficiary?
Reviewing your estate plan regularly is the only way to ensure it is always up to date. A good rule of thumb is to review your plan at every big life event, i.e., divorce, marriage, birth or death, or every three to five years.
Contact a qualified estate planning attorney to have documents prepared and/or reviewed. Treat procrastination as your enemy.
Rebekah N. Freeman is an associate attorney with Elder Law & Estate Planning Center. hiltonheadelderlaw.com