With the new year at our door, it’s time to start thinking about your new year’s resolutions.
It doesn’t matter whether you have an estate plan or don’t, one important item to add to your list is getting an estate plan checkup.
Don’t Have an Estate Plan?
If you don’t already have an estate plan, then getting one in place should be at the top of your 2015 new year’s resolutions.
Why? Because without an estate plan, you and your property may end up in a court-supervised guardianship if you become incapacitated, and your property and your loved ones may end up in probate court after you die.
Worse yet, if you don’t take the time to make your own will, then the state where you live at the time of your death will essentially write one for you, and it most likely won’t divvy up your property the way you would have.
A common misconception is that estate planning is only necessary for wealthy people. But this simply isn’t true – anyone with a bank or a retirement account, a home, or a family needs to make a plan for what happens if they become incapacitated or when they die. Of course the complexity of a plan will vary depending on your circumstances, but all estate plans should be put together with the help of an attorney who is experienced with the legal formalities required to create a valid will, trust, health care directive, and power of attorney in your state.
How Old is Your Estate Plan?
Do you already have an estate plan?
If you do, then please pull your documents out of the drawer, dust them off, and look at the date you signed them.
Were your documents signed in the 80s or 90s, or, worse yet, before 1980? Then please run, don’t walk, to an estate planning attorney, because your documents are terribly out of date and need to be brought into the new millennium as soon as possible.
Did you sign your documents between 2000 and 2009? Aside from the federal estate tax exemption jumping from $675,000 to $3,500,000 during that time period, state estate taxes disappeared in many states. Because of the significant changes in federal and state estate taxes, documents from this time period can be out of date and need to be tweaked in some shape or form.
Did you sign your documents during 2010, 2011, or 2012? Federal estate taxes, gift taxes, and generation-skipping transfer taxes went through major changes during these years, and ‘portability’ of the federal estate tax exemption between married couples was introduced. Unfortunately, while your estate planning documents may only be a few years old, they very likely do not take advantage of the opportunities made available from recent changes in federal tax laws. And, it’s not just tax laws that are changing – modifications to state laws governing wills, trusts, health care directives, and powers of attorney may warrant some revisions to your estate planning documents as well.
And last but not least, regardless of what year you signed your estate planning documents, think about all of the changes in your life since you signed them. Did you get married or divorced, have a child or two or a grandchild or two, or move to a new state? Did you sell your business, retire, have a significant change in assets, or win the lottery? Any major changes in your family or financial situation will certainly have an affect on your estate plan.
Estate Planning is Not a One Shot Deal
Estate planning is not a static event that you grudgingly do once and then forget about it. On the contrary, estate planning is a continuing process, because life is a moving target that is full of constant change, so your estate plan needs to change as your life changes.