One of the most costly mistakes people can make, especially as they get older, is not having a comprehensive estate plan. For those who do have one, failing to regularly update it can be just as costly. Without a legally sound plan, there is no guarantee that your wishes will be honored and your property will go to the people you love or the organizations you support.
There is no better time to address this issue than at the start of a new year. Significant life changes or new tax laws, for example, may have occurred in the preceding calendar year or since your last update. Addressing your estate plan at the beginning of a new year offers the chance to get a jump start on the year to come.
One of the most common reasons to update an existing plan is marriage. Did you, your children or another family member named in your estate planning documents get married since your plan was created or last updated? An estate planning attorney could help you determine how that might affect your will, trust, beneficiary designations, insurance policies or other important estate documents.
Marriage changes family structure, and estate documents need to reflect those changes. For instance, if you were recently married, designating your spouse as a beneficiary to your property, or perhaps naming him or her as a personal representative to your will, would be something to handle right away. In the case of a living will, your new spouse should be made aware in writing of your health care wishes in the event you become terminally ill. A power of attorney document also could be crafted to give your spouse the ability to make decisions on your behalf relating to financial, legal and health care matters.
Estate planning is just the first part of the equation. You and your new spouse need to discuss your long-term care future. What you may not know is that when it comes to being able to afford the high cost of long-term care, you need to give your new spouse the ability to plan and work with an elder care attorney in the event of a crisis.
If the marriage is not your first, an additional set of considerations may apply. A review of previous estate documents would be required to understand how any prior arrangements would impact your plans moving forward. For instance, if you were contractually obligated through a previous divorce to keep your ex-spouse as beneficiary to a retirement account, you may not be able to update the beneficiary designation to your current spouse. Doing so could inadvertently cause a series of avoidable problems.
In any case, consulting with your estate planning attorney can provide the most efficient path to creating an overall estate plan that confidently meets your needs. We encourage you to ask us your questions. Do not wait to schedule a meeting to create the right estate plan for you now and in the new year.