With the holidays quickly approaching and the year coming to an end, it is a good time for reflection. Many of us take some time at the end of the year to reflect on the prior year and evaluate goals we set out for ourselves the prior year and goals we hope to accomplish next year. This is a great time to pull out your Estate Planning Documents and give them a review. Do your documents still meet your estate planning goals or have your goals changed?
Look at who you have named as decision makers in your estate planning documents. If you have a Trust, this would be the individuals you named as Trustees. If you have a Will, this would be those individuals you named as Personal Representatives. If you have a Financial Power of Attorney, this would be those individuals you named as your attorneys in fact. If you have a medical power of attorney, this would be those individuals you named as your agents. Are you still comfortable with those people as your decisionmakers?
Perhaps your estate planning documents were drafted many years ago and you named a brother or a sister who have since developed medical or mental health issues that might affect their ability to make decisions for you and you would like to appoint a different person to make decisions. Or maybe when you drafted your documents your children were minors so they were not named as decision makers, and now they are older, you trust them, and you would like them to make decisions now instead of those other relatives. Perhaps you named a son-in-law as a decision maker and now your daughter and son-in-law have gotten divorced. Perhaps you yourself have gotten divorced. Perhaps there has been a death in the family. A review will let you reflect on if you are still happy with the decision makers you chose or if maybe its time a change is needed.
Next, I would take a look at your Beneficiaries. Take a look at your Trust or Will and make sure your beneficiaries named are still the people you want to inherit from your estate when you are gone and that those beneficiaries will inherit in the way you intend. Perhaps there has been a birth. If you now have grandchildren that you hadn’t provided for and now wish to do so, you may need to make changes to your estate planning documents to include them. Perhaps you have had a falling out with a beneficiary and you no longer wish for them to inherit anything.
You may want to keep the named beneficiaries the same as they are, but maybe you want to change how and when they inherit their share. Maybe your adult child has had relationship issues and you now feel like you need to protect them from themselves or a divorce. Maybe now instead of them receiving their share outright upon your death, you want it to be held in trust and only distributed to them in small amounts over time.
Once you have determined who the intended beneficiaries are it is important to review your assets. If you have a trust, you will want to be sure the trust is funded with your assets. Review bank accounts, brokerage accounts, insurance policies, etc. to be sure the trust is the owner or beneficiary on those accounts. Make sure you have a TOD (transfer on death) to the Trust on any vehicles. If you have purchased a new home or refinanced, are you sure your home is still titled to your trust? If you have a Will, you will be relying on beneficiary designations on your assets to avoid those assets going through probate. Be sure to review all assets to be sure they have beneficiary designations and that those designations are still what you want. Vehicles should have a TOD, bank accounts should have a POD (payable on death), and all assets should have beneficiaries named. If you have purchased a new home, be sure that a beneficiary deed is executed for the new real estate.
If a review of your estate planning documents indicates to you that changes are needed to your documents, you should contact an Estate Planning Attorney who can discuss those changes with you and assist you in making those changes. An attorney may also suggest additional changes to your documents based on new laws.