Know When to Update Your Estate Plan

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Updating your estate plan isn't something you think about too often. Why should it be? You're happy, healthy, and you have a good life. Letting the negative "what ifs" creep in only puts a damper on your day. As painful as it is to consider, estate plans are critical. If anything happens to you, it's important to know your loved ones are taken care of and your wishes are honored. Throughout life, those last wishes change with the major events you go through.

The Huffington Postrecently posted an article titled “9 Life Changes That Require An Estate Plan Review.” These life changes, if nothing else, signal when you should update your estate plan.

Marriage. Did you know that your spouse may not be the sole beneficiary or heir of your estate?Depending on where you live at the time of your death, this may be unknown without a solid estate plan. To ensure your spouse, or anyone else gets certain belongings from your estate, you need to detail this in your plan. When you wed, you should review your estate plan and make any necessary adjustments.

Remarriage. A marriage license typically doesn’t set up your new spouse to receive your entire estate after your pass away. The laws of most states say that your new spouse will share in your estate assets along with your children from your first (or previous) marriage unless you change this in your will, living trust, or other estate planning document. If you get remarried, it's critical that you update your estate plan to add your new spouse and any of his or her stepchildren should you want them to inherit from you.

Divorce. Typically when a divorce decree is entered, the laws automatically disinherit a former spouse. Nonetheless, if you included provisions in your estate plan that give specific property to your former spouse by name, make sure to change this to disinherit him or her.

Birth of a Child. This big change definitely qualifies for an update of your estate plan to protect your child or children. You need to nominate guardians to care for your children in case something happens to you. If not, your children will be cared for by guardians appointed by the court. That could be anyone. Same thing applies if you adopted a child. Designate a guardian to care for your child in your will.

Death of a Beneficiary. Updating your estate plan may be the furthest thing from your mind if this should occur. However, it's important. If your beneficiary dies, you will need to ensure your estate plan still does what you want, such as if the beneficiary had children and you want his or her portion to go to them. You’ll typically need to talk to your estate planning attorney to make sure that happens.

Illness or Disability. One often overlooked aspect of estate planning is illness or disability. There are lots of things to consider regarding your care, and you need to articulate your desires before you become ill, disabled, or incapacitated. This can save your loved ones heartache. In addition, you need to think about the situation if you passed away and one of your beneficiaries became incapacitated. Money from your estate could actually harm them by causing him or her to be ineligible for needs-based government care programs. You need to look at a special needs trust. Plan for both of these scenarios by updating your estate plan before anything happens.

A Substantial Increase in Assets or Income. If you have more money or assets now than when you first created your estate plan, then that is a good thing up to a point. That point is when you and your beneficiaries are subject to federal or state estate taxes. Your estate planning attorney can structure your estate to minimize these taxes and keep more money for your estate.

Moving to Another State. Every state has its own unique set of estate laws, so you should talk to your estate planning attorney.

Changes in the Law. State and federal tax and estate laws are always changing. When this occurs, your estate plan may be at risk.

Review your plan with your attorney to make sure everything is OK.

Reference: The Huffington Post (August 17, 2015) “9 Life Changes That Require An Estate Plan Review”

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