We tend to believe once our estate documents are signed, we can lock them away only to be seen again when we are gone from this world. The sense of peace in knowing our wishes have been formally documented is gratifying beyond measure, but it’s absolutely necessary to review our wills, beneficiary designations, and trust documents every few years. The cycle of my firm’s process has us conducting estate reviews with most of our clients this quarter. Here are some interesting points for consideration we have discovered in our reviews:
Coordination Misses: By far the most common problem we uncover in an estate review is an improper beneficiary designation. Once wills are signed, the estate attorney provides instructions for changing beneficiary designations on life insurance, IRA’s, 401(k)’s, and other accounts. Invariably, something gets missed or improperly processed, or over time new accounts are not set up correctly. The estate plan will not work if all of your financial accounts are not properly coordinated with your will and trust documents.
Executor, Guardian, and Trustee Changes: As your family grows and matures, it’s important to consider adjustments to the people you have granted powers in your will. Fortunately, your will probably has alternates listed in case someone is unavailable or unwilling to serve. However; aging parents and kids coming of age commonly cause need for change. These are easy and common changes to make so don’t hesitate to make adjustments to meet your current circumstances.
Adult Children Documents: Credit goes to local attorney Robert Putman for this sobering thought. It’s not a bad idea at all to have some estate documents created for our children as they pass the age eighteen mark. Federal regulations like HIPPA and FERPA severely restrict a parent’s ability to acquire information and make decisions in an emergency life threatening situation involving adult children. The same Powers of Attorney, Directives to Physicians, and Durable Healthcare Powers we maintain between spouses make sense for our college students. In addition, the tragic death of a young adult child in an accident could create litigation and issues where a will would be highly beneficial.
Trusts and Business Transition: Unfortunately, financial success creates complexity and there’s no way around it. If you know there will be relevant wealth available to your kids, estate planning heads to a new level. Instead of just a will, you probably need other documents, a lifetime gifting strategy, and business continuation planning. The best way to tackle more complex estate planning is through a well-defined and organized process with your team of experts.
Estate planning, like all of the other planning we conduct, gains it’s power and importance from the uncertain future we all face. If and when we find ourselves in a fight for our lives against a potentially terminal disease, in the midst of a medical emergency, or at the end of our days on Earth, the planning we completed will allow us to focus on what’s really important, not what we should have done. Dust off your will if you haven’t reviewed it in awhile, make some notes, and use some of these points for reference. Your planning will allow you to live life intentionally.