There’s nothing like a pandemic to make people worried about dying – that’s something we learned all too well during the past year. Here at Samuel, Sayward & Baler, we were grateful that we all remained healthy and able to help our clients – both old and new – create and update estate plans that gave them peace of mind.
Now that the end of the pandemic is in sight, consider this a friendly reminder that reviewing and updating your estate plan is not something that should only happen when you are in pandemic-induced lockdown. It’s something you should do on a regular basis – review things once a year, and meet with your estate planning attorney to review things (whether you think you need to or not) every five years or so, or sooner if you know changes are needed.
Updating your plan is important for any number of reasons. Here are some things you should ask yourself when reviewing your existing documents:
- Are the people named in your Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy to make financial or health care decisions for you still trusted people you can count on to be there if you are not well?
- Is your Executor/Personal Representative named in your Will and the Trustee of your Trust still a trusted individual you can count on to settle your estate and administer your Trust fairly and efficiently at your death, working with your attorney, accountant and financial advisor?
- If the people you have named are getting older or are not well, do you have appropriate alternates named to take their place if they cannot (or do not wish to) serve in those roles when the time comes?
- Do your documents still reflect your current wishes about the distribution of your assets at death? Does your Will or Trust refer to assets, such as real estate or a business, that you no longer own?
- Have you recently been divorced? Melinda Gates is updating her estate plan in light of her divorce, and you should too!
- On a happier note, have you recently been married, had a baby, won the lottery or received an inheritance? Those type of events should also prompt a review and update of your estate plan.
In addition to the things you know should be changed, there may be other provisions of the documents that need to be updated as well. For example, provisions of your Will and Trust regarding how estate taxes will be paid may not operate as intended if certain assets are no longer owed, or if beneficiaries have been changed. The federal estate and gift tax laws, laws governing inherited retirement accounts, and Massachusetts probate or trust laws have all changed within the last ten years, making many provisions of older documents out-of-date.
Unfortunately, this past year has taught us that life and health are unpredictable. Although having an estate plan is an important first step, keeping that plan up-to-date is just as important, as a plan that’s out-of-date can often create more issues than no plan at all. Make it a priority to review your plan today, and sit down with your estate planning attorney to discuss any necessary updates. They will be happy to see you alive and well and keeping your estate plan up-to-date, since it will make their job easier when you are no longer around.