All of us at Grefe & Sidney want to wish you and yours a happy New Year. As the year begins, many people go about scheduling their yearly checkups. This year, besides making sure to visit the doctor and dentist, you should consider doing an “estate plan checkup.” As life changes, it is important that your estate plan changes to reflect your current circumstances. Here are several questions to consider to determine whether it’s time for a checkup:
1) Have you had a change in your relationships? Whether this means a marriage, divorce, or loss of a spouse, it is important to update your estate plan to reflect such changes and ensure your assets pass according to your wishes.
2) Are there any new additions to your family?
a. Birth or Adoption. In addition to providing for your child’s financial future, you may wish to appoint a legal guardian in the event you and your spouse die or are incapacitated. Generally, a trust is appropriate to provide for minor children.
b. Grandchildren. If you become a grandparent, you may want to make sure your plan allows for him or her to inherit if the grandchild’s parents predecease you. Also consider whether you want to provide a bequest to grandchildren.
3) Has your wealth substantially increased or decreased since your estate plan was made? The change in the value of your estate may cause you to reallocate how your assets are distributed on death.
4) Has an illness or injury occurred? If you or one of your family members becomes seriously ill, you may want to consider changing your plan to reflect their increased needs.
5) Are your fiduciaries (Executor, General Power of Attorney, Medical Agent, Trustee) current? It is important to update your fiduciaries if a current named agent passes, becomes incapacitated, or if personal situations have changed which would result in their inability to serve.
6) Is there a new charity or organization with which you have become involved that you would like to include in your estate plan?
7) Are all your beneficiary designations current? Updating your beneficiary designations could be mentioned in most of the sections above. Besides ensuring your beneficiaries in your Will and/or Trust are current, you should check the designations for your retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and brokerage accounts.
8) Have there been changes in tax laws that affect your estate plan? Since 2001, we have seen the federal estate tax exemption rise from $675,000 to over $5 million. As a result, plans that have not been updated often contain unnecessary estate tax planning scheme which can place an undue burden on your loved ones. Looking to the future, significant changes to the estate and gift tax laws are possible after the 2016 election. We will be keeping an eye on any proposed legislation to keep you informed on how it could affect your estate plan.