While you may have your executed estate planning documents in place, it is crucial to review those documents and their contents at various points in time. Estate planning is an ongoing process and requires routine review to ensure your documents are actually accomplishing your goals. Although we usually think of wills and trusts as the primary estate planning documents, additional plan documents such as Advance Health Care Directives and Durable Powers of Attorney also require review over time. In this article we consider some circumstances which may trigger a need to review your estate plan.
Marriage Or Divorce
If you have an estate plan in place and subsequently get married or divorced, your estate plan should be reviewed as promptly as possible. Clients who are married when they create their plans but get divorced after often wish to remove their former spouse from their estate plan. Likewise, clients who get married will likely wish to revise their estate plan to include their new spouse. With either marriage or divorce, it is important to clarify your intentions for how your property should pass once your personal circumstances change in these ways.
Acquiring property significant in value as compared to your other property is also an example of a life event that would trigger a review of your estate plan. Real property, higher value tangible property, business interests, and monetary inheritances are only a few examples of acquired property that could change the way you plan for your future. Adding new property to your estate may also incline you to restructure your estate plan for tax purposes. Depending on the size of your estate with the newly acquired property included, you may need to consider new estate and income tax implications.
Growing Your Family
Adding children to your family can change your estate planning and wealth management goals significantly, triggering a need to revisit your current plan. If you decide to expand your family by having children or adopting, you may wish to specifically include your children in your estate plan. You may want to craft an estate plan that provides for your children for life or name potential guardians if your children are still minors. You may also want to revise your named medical or financial decision makers in an Advance Health Care Directive or Durable Power of Attorney if your minor children have since grown and are now capable of making these decisions on your behalf.
Having children also means thinking about their future in terms of spouses and children of their own. If your estate plan will leave your children with an inheritance of any kind, you may want to consider whether that inheritance would be protected from any child’s future spouses in the instance of divorce and/or remarriage. Providing your children with an outright inheritance may seem like a simple estate planning solution, but it could leave your children’s inheritance vulnerable to former spouses during divorce, creditors, or other financial predators. To secure asset protection for your children’s inheritance, your estate plan should contemplate scenarios such as these.
Planning For Elderly Parents
It is also important to discuss estate planning with older adult family members who may not already have plans in place. You may want to review your parents’ estate plans at points that can occur later in life, such as retirement, a significant injury, or moving out of their home. An estate plan review at these instances is crucial to ensure the proper people are named to play roles in their plans. The people appointed in an estate plan should be reliable, trustworthy, and should always have your parents’ best interests in mind. These are the people who will step in and help if your older family members fell victim to a financial scam, or who will consult with medical professionals if your family members were unable to do so themselves. Regardless of who is named in your family members’ estate plans, it is very important to ensure they are people you and your family would trust to handle the responsibilities that come with the roles.
Your older adult family members may also eventually reach a point where they are unable to manage their own personal affairs. This is often referred to as becoming “incapacitated,” although a person can become incapacitated in many different ways and under many different circumstances. Determining whether someone is incapacitated or not is a task that people tend to leave in the hands of doctors, but it can often be difficult to find a doctor who will confirm that someone is unable to manage their financial affairs unless there is absolutely no room for doubt. This can lead to a situation where caring family members want to step in and manage the affairs of their loved one, but they are simply unable to do so. To avoid this problem, clients can opt to appoint a disability panel in their estate planning documents. A disability panel is a group of people the client chooses who can be assembled and tasked with making a unanimous determination of the client’s incapacity. This tool can provide peace of mind when clients know their loved ones will determine if and when they need others to step in and manage personal affairs, as opposed to having to find a doctor who will make that determination.
No matter how your older adult parents or family members may wish to outline their estate plans, it is crucial to have these plans in place while they are of sound mind. Waiting until they are incapacitated or are near that point will cause additional problems for your family, as incapacitated people cannot execute estate plans as freely as they could prior to incapacitation.