It seems like a global pandemic would push people to get their estate plans in order, but more than half of American adults still do not have a will.
For those who don’t have a will or an estate plan, the time to get this done is now.
We may think of an estate plan as end-of-life documents, but many estate planning documents are used while you are living. Having them updated protects you and your family. Certain trigger events, like birth, marriage, divorce, death, adoption of a child, inheritance or moving to another state, should all be followed by a review of your estate plan.
Your will and estate plan reflects the people in your life, and like it or not, relationships change. Your executor is the person you name to carry out the directions in your will. Are you still close with the person you picked five, ten or twenty years ago? Are they able to serve, or have they died? The executor has a big job of liquidating assets, making sure beneficiaries receive inheritances and even selling your primary residence. Are they still the right person for the job?
Guardians named when children were born also need to be updated. First, if your adorable babies are now adolescents, does the same person still want to be their guardian? If you named their grandmother when the kids were little, could she handle teenaged turbulence? Do not forget to name a second and even a third alternative guardian. If the primary guardian does not want to or cannot serve, a backup guardian could be the difference between a loving, familiar home, and foster care.
Power of Attorney and Healthcare Proxy
Other documents your estate planning attorney can review with you include Power of Attorney and Healthcare Proxy. Maybe your favorite brother-in-law has divorced your sister and you do not want him anywhere near your financial affairs, if you become incapacitated. You need to review and update these documents.
The same person does not have to serve in multiple roles. The person you chose to be your Healthcare Proxy does not have to also handle your financial life. Review both of these choices.
Reviewing and updating beneficiary designations
Reviewing and updating beneficiary designations are often the source of great frustration for families. A life insurance policy purchased twenty years ago likely names a spouse as the beneficiary. Are you still married to the same person? Review investment accounts to be sure the beneficiary is still the person who you want to receive assets upon your death.
Beneficiary designations are distributed outside of probate estate, directly to the beneficiaries, by way of the contract between you and the financial institution. Whoever is the beneficiary on the document gets the assets—regardless of what changes may have occurred in your life.
Certain pensions and retirement accounts require current spouses to be the beneficiary, unless they sign legal documents disclaiming their rights.
If you have failed to designate a beneficiary on accounts with this option, or if the named person has died and there is no contingent beneficiary, the assets will go into your probate estate.
Even if your life has not changed, which is unlikely, there have been many big changes in tax laws. You may miss out on opportunities, another reason for a review with your estate planning attorney.