A new year always brings the sad reviews of notable personalities who have died in the past year. Two A list movie stars – Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Walker – provide a cautionary tale on the importance of keeping your estate plan up to date. In Hoffman’s case, his 2004 estate plan had never been updated and he had two children after it was created. Walker’s 2001 plan had also never been updated to reflect the changes in his life.
Conducting an estate plan review whenever something major changes in your family – like a birth, death, marriage, divorce, or major asset purchase or sale – is key to ensuring your estate plan remains valid throughout your life and the people you love are taken care of in the way you intend. Here are some additional steps you can take to be sure your estate plan works:
Make it easy to find. It is not uncommon for people to file away a will and estate plan in a safety deposit box, which makes it inaccessible to family without a court order.
Make wise choices in your fiduciaries. Not only should you name more than one person as executor/trustee – you will want backups (and even backups for the backups) if for some reason your primary choice cannot serve – you should also inform each person that you have chosen them to ensure their willingness to take on the job.
Avoid contradictions in your estate plan. Be sure that your planning documents do not contradict your choices for the beneficiaries of your retirement accounts, life insurance policy, etc. This can cause major headaches for your fiduciaries and beneficiaries.
Name guardians. If you have minor children, one of the most important functions of your estate plan is to name legal guardians. If your first choice cannot serve, you will need to have named backups (and again, backups for the backups) to ensure the future of your children does not end up in the hands of a judge who doesn’t know you or the choices you might have made for them. We have a free report we can send you on 7 Things Every Parent Must Do When Naming Legal Guardians – so you can avoid the most common guardian naming mistakes! Just contact our office for a free copy of this valuable report.
Beware of unintentional disinheritances. If you are remarried and have children from your first marriage you wish to provide for as well as your current spouse, you will want to make special provisions for them in your estate plan. If you wish to intentionally disinherit someone, you should specifically state those intentions in your plan.
Get professional guidance. Wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents downloaded from the Internet will not be tailored to the specific needs of your family. They do not come with guidance and counsel. And they do not help you preserve and pass on your greatest wealth – your stories, wisdom, guidance, and love. You should seek out the experience of a qualified attorney to help you accomplish all of that and avoid mistakes that could jeopardize your family’s financial future.
I’d be glad to sit down with you, learn about your family, educate you on the legal issues, and help you identify the best strategies to provide for and protect your loved ones.
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