Part 1 of a 2-part Estate Planning Series
A will is a fundamental component of a comprehensive estate plan that’s critical in ensuring your assets are distributed according to your wishes after you pass away. An estate plan typically encompasses a broader spectrum of strategies and tools to manage your assets, minimize taxes, and address various aspects of your financial affairs both during your lifetime and after your passing. Within an estate plan, alongside your will, you might include documents such as trusts, powers of attorney, and advance healthcare directives.
Drafting a will and estate plan is not a one-and-done task. Life is constantly changing and so are your circumstances, which is why it’s essential to review and update your documents every 3-5 years.
In this article, we’ll explore the reasons why this practice is crucial and provide some guidance on how to go about it.
Life is unpredictable, and major life events can significantly impact your financial and personal circumstances. Events like marriage, divorce, the birth of children or grandchildren, the death of beneficiaries or executors, and significant changes in your financial situation can all have implications for your estate plan. By reviewing and updating your estate plan regularly, you can ensure that it accurately reflects your current circumstances and what happens with your estate after you pass.
Your asset portfolio is likely to change over time. You may acquire new properties, investments, or valuable possessions, or you may decide to sell or gift assets. When your asset situation changes, it’s important to update your estate plan to include new assets and specify how you want them distributed. Failing to do so could lead to unintended consequences, such as certain assets not going to the intended beneficiaries.
Tax and Legal Changes
Tax laws and regulations can change over the years, affecting the distribution of your assets and the financial burden on your beneficiaries. By reviewing your estate plan regularly, you can make adjustments to take advantage of tax-saving strategies or ensure that your estate plan remains in compliance with current legal requirements. Consulting with legal or estate planning professionals is advisable to navigate these complex matters.
Relationships with family members and friends can evolve over time. Marriages, divorces, falling outs or reconciliations, deaths, and/or births may lead to changes in your list of beneficiaries (or your feelings towards them). To prevent disputes or confusion after your passing, it’s essential to update your estate plan to reflect these changes and ensure your assets go to those you wish to benefit.
Executor and Guardian Appointments
Your choice of executor for your estate and/or guardian for minor children is a crucial aspect of your estate plan. Over time, you may need to reconsider these appointments due to changes in the health, availability, or willingness of the individuals you initially selected. Regularly reviewing and updating your estate plan allows you to confirm that the right people are entrusted with these responsibilities.
Safeguarding Your Digital Legacy
In today’s digital age, where much of our personal and financial lives are intertwined with online accounts and platforms, maintaining a master list of your online accounts alongside your estate plan has become increasingly important. Additionally, because accessing or closing accounts, retrieving important documents, or even preserving your digital legacy can be nearly impossible without the necessary login credentials (user IDs/passwords), be sure those that would need such information have access (reputable password applications will have a means of setting up exactly this). Including a list of your online accounts in your estate plan ensures that your loved ones can efficiently navigate the digital aspects of your estate.
Ensuring Accessibility of your Estate Plan
Ensuring that a copy of your estate plan is readily accessible to your heirs when needed is a vital step in the estate planning process. While creating a well-drafted estate plan is crucial, it’s equally important that your loved ones can locate it swiftly in the event of your passing. Keeping the original estate plan in a secure location, such as a [accessible!] safe deposit box and/or with an attorney is wise, but it’s equally important to inform your trusted family members or executors about its whereabouts.
Peace of Mind
Perhaps one of the most significant benefits of reviewing and updating your estate plan every 3-5 years is the peace of mind it provides. Knowing that your estate plan accurately reflects your current intentions and circumstances can provide comfort and ensure that your loved ones will be taken care of as per your wishes.
A will is an essential document that should evolve with your life and circumstances. Don’t wait for a major life event to prompt a review; make it a part of your financial and estate planning routine every 3-5 years.
Financial advisors play a crucial role in estate planning. They assess your financial situation, help you set goals, and can assist you in creating a tailored plan that includes minimizing estate taxes, optimizing asset allocation, and addressing insurance needs. Collaborating with a financial advisor and estate planning professional ensures expert guidance and a comprehensive strategy, helping to safeguard your assets and legacy for future generations.