A New Year for some means another list of New Year's resolutions. One resolution that should be at the top of everyone's list is "Deal with my estate plan."
Whether that means finally creating your estate plan, or simply reviewing and updating your plan, it does not matter. The point is to make sure you take the time to ensure your estate plan still works for you.
Here is a basic idea of how to get started with this New Year's Resolution:
1. Locate your estate planning documents. You might be amazed at how many people have no idea where their estate planning documents are actually kept.
Do you have originals or only copies? If only copies, who has the originals? Do you keep them in a safety deposit box? Do you have electronic copies of your documents only?
Can you even find your estate planning documents?
For those who have no idea where your documents are, and those who just do not have any documents, period, your resolution needs to be "Get an estate plan in place."
For those of you who are able to put your hands on your documents, follow the remaining items on this list.
2. Review your estate planning documents. Reviewing your documents periodically is very important. As times goes by, your life changes; laws change. Reviewing your documents allows you to make sure your estate plan works for your current situation.
A. How old are your documents? If your documents are more than 10 years old, chances are you are going to need to update at least some facet of them.
B. Assess your current situation. Since the creation of your estate planning documents, have you gotten divorced, married or remarried? Have you had any more children or grandchildren? Major health issues? Death in the family? Major financial issues? Children or grandchildren have any major health or financial issues?
C. Are you satisfied with your named agents? Review all of your documents to determine if you are still satisfied that those named are the best choices to handle your estate or make financial or healthcare decisions for you.
These life changes, and others, could significantly affect your estate plan.
It is important to review your existing plan regularly in order to ensure it will always meet your current goals.
3. Review beneficiary designations. Another vital step to take when reviewing your estate plan is to review who you have named as a death beneficiary on your assets. For example, if your spouse is named as the primary beneficiary on your IRA, did you think to name a contingent beneficiary?
Reviewing your estate plan regularly is the only way to ensure it is always up to date. A good rule of thumb is to review your plan at every big life event, i.e. divorce, marriage, birth, or death, or every three to five years.
Don't let another year go by without ensuring your estate plan is up to date and reflects your current goals. Contact a qualified estate planning attorney to get started.
Rebekah N. Freeman is an associate attorney with Elder Law & Estate Planning Center. hiltonheadelderlaw.com