There is no question but that our best plans are affected by the passage of time. As we move through life’s stages, we experience change. We may marry or divorce, move to another state or county, change jobs or careers, have children or grandchildren. Sometimes the people we feel closest to move away or, for other reasons, become less important to us. We may enjoy, or suffer, a significant change in our financial circumstances. We may lose a loved one. Each of these life altering events should trigger a review of an estate plan. Let’s consider why:
Members of a couple who are getting married should create healthcare proxies and powers of attorney empowering their spouse to make major decisions in the event of their own illness or incapacity. They should also take time to consider their individual financial circumstances and whether the assets or liabilities that each brings to the marriage will be shared. Particularly if there is a large disparity between their respective financial circumstances, they should consider the benefits of a prenuptial agreement. They should discuss their wishes as to the disposition of their property if one or both spouses die and incorporate this into their estate planning documents.
Starting a Family:
The decision to have a child comes with the responsibility of planning for that child’s care. It is imperative for prospective parents to name a legal guardian. The only way to do this is with a last will and testament which can also establish a trust for assets that will pass to a minor child.
Divorce often provides the impetus to review an estate plan. Divorcing couples rarely want an ex-spouse to serve as executor, healthcare proxy or agent under a power of attorney but have they considered who will take these roles? It is also important to ensure that beneficiary designations on retirement accounts, life insurance and other assets are consistent with the new plan.
Beneficiaries are customarily designated when setting up a pension or retirement account. It is not unusual that the account owner does not review these designations periodically. Before retirement we should undertake a comprehensive review of the plan to ensure that our current wishes are reflected in our documents and that beneficiary designations match our expectations. Retirement is also a good time to consider whether additional gifting or Medicaid planning should be implemented.
Our assets change as values fluctuate, positions are acquired or sold and accounts are opened, closed or consolidated. The value of the estate, the manner in which assets are titled and whether beneficiaries are designated are among the key factors influencing the administration of an estate. Ensuring that this information is current, is efficiently and accurately conveyed to your successors and that beneficiary designations do not inadvertently undermine your wishes is important.
Often new grandparents think about changing their estate plans upon the birth of a grandchild. But a review of an estate plan should be triggered by more that the introduction of a new family member. An aging parent may no longer be the best candidate to serve as guardian – or in any other fiduciary capacity. A provision leaving assets to an aging loved one should ensure protection against the possibility that the individual may later require long-term care. A new tax law, like the one that passed in 2017, may render certain provisions of an existing plan inapplicable or outdated.
A review may mean just that! Sometimes we review a plan and discover that it still works, just the way it should. Whether a change is necessary or not, the Long Island estate planning attorneys at Berwitz & DiTata LLP offers a complimentary review to its existing clients every three to five years. We encourage our clients to take advantage of this important benefit.