One of the questions we ask in every Discovery Meeting is “When did you last update or review your estate plan?” Sometimes, the answer is “We don’t have an estate plan”. And that’s ok—one of the reasons people search out a financial advisor in the first place is to get their so-called “ducks in a row” and to make sure they have addressed all aspects of a prudent financial plan.
But what if you already have an estate plan? For example, you created a standard will (or pour-over will) years ago. You did all the right things, like choosing the right trustee(s) and successor trustee(s), assigning financial power of attorney and healthcare power of attorney to the appropriate people, and creating a medical directive. What else do you need to do? Isn’t this a one-and-done task?
For starters, if your documents were created over five years ago, you should sit down and read through them to make sure that the people you named are still appropriate. Then share your documents with your financial advisor and estate planning attorney to see if they have any comments or concerns. Tax laws change over time and it might be in your best interest to revise your documents to more effectively and efficiently achieve your objectives.
Even if you created your documents recently, there may be some things that you forgot to consider. According to TrustAdvisor, here are the four things that people most often forget to include in their plan:
Alternate Beneficiaries – One of the most important things your estate plan should include is at least one alternative beneficiary. This is in case the named beneficiary does not outlive you or is unable to claim under the will. By providing alternative beneficiaries, you reduce the risk that the state will be the one deciding who receives your assets.
Personal Possessions – Not all heirlooms are valuable from a financial perspective, but they may contain significant sentimental value. A little planning can make a difficult emotional time for your heirs easier if you are transparent about who should receive what. The best way to accomplish this is by creating a Personal Property Memorandum. This is a document separate from your will that details your wishes with respect to tangible personal property. In some states, the Memorandum is legally binding so long as you refer to it in your will. In states where the document is not legally binding, it can still serve as useful (and much appreciated) guide.
Digital Assets – What happens to your online accounts after you die? If you don’t share your logins and passwords with anyone, retrieving data could be difficult to impossible. Make a list of your online accounts, including email, banking, social media, and anywhere else you want your trusted friend or family member to have access. Keep the list current with up-to-date login and password information. Make sure the chosen person can log into both your computer and your phone.
Pets – While you can’t leave property directly to an animal, you can name a caretaker in your will and leave money to that person so that taking care of your pet(s) won’t be a financial burden for them. Again, remember to name an alternative beneficiary.
If you are revising an old document or creating a new one, make sure that you wait until the new documents are witnessed and signed before destroying the old documents. The people who should have a copy of your will are your attorney, financial advisor, and yourself. Keep the originals in a fire-proof safe in your home (sometimes a court order is necessary to gain access to a safety deposit box upon the death of the owner, and that can be a hassle). Most importantly, tell your executor(s) where the originals are and how they can gain access. Estate plans work best when the people you trust know your intentions and guidance is provided beforehand in personal and ongoing conversations.