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Estate Planning Blog

Serving Clients Throughout North Central Missouri

Retirement Planning

When Should I Update My Estate Plan?

Estate planning documents, including wills, trusts, power of attorney and related documents, are designed to reflect life, which inevitably includes a steady stream of changes. Tax laws change, as do families and relationships. A recent article from The Press-Enterprise titled “Avoid probate and audit an estate plan regularly” recommends a review with your estate planning attorney every three to five years. A lot happens in three to five years, including national elections and federal tax legislation.

Start by considering the people you have named to serve after you are incapacitated or after death, including your executor, guardian for minor children, trustee, power of attorney, healthcare proxy and successor trustee. Do you still want those people in their respective roles? Are they still willing to act on your behalf? If they have moved away or have died, you will need to identify new people and update your estate plan.

Has your estate plan stayed current? Some attorneys take a walk down memory lane when they review estate plans, as planning strategies change over the years, reflecting tax laws and social expectations. An old trust might have a provision requiring a division of the trust into two shares at the first spouse’s death. This was done so both spouses’ estate tax exemptions were used. However, the law changed in 2011 and now the surviving spouse automatically preserves the deceased spouses’ estate tax exemption for later use. Dividing the assets into two separate trusts is no longer necessary.

Depending upon your situation, there may be reasons to retain this or other out-of-date provisions.  However, you will not know until you review the documents with an experienced estate planning attorney.

Do your trusts accomplish your current goals? If your trusts were created to protect a spendthrift heir who has now become a model fiscal citizen, you may want to make changes. If you have left your assets outright to beneficiaries and one has entered into a questionable marriage, it is time to protect your beneficiary by having a trust created.

Beneficiary designations should be reviewed every time an estate plan is reviewed. It is likely that you own several assets controlled by beneficiary designations. These may include annuities, life insurance, IRAs, Roth IRAs, investment accounts and many other assets. The beneficiary designation always supersedes the will. Estate planning attorneys, insurance agents and financial advisers see this go wrong all the time.

No matter what your will says, if the name on the beneficiary designation is alive, they will receive the asset. It does not matter if you have not spoken to them in twenty years, or the divorce was ten years ago. This issue is not just about keeping your ex’s hands out of your estate. Here is a good example: a spouse names a now-deceased husband as the beneficiary of an IRA. No contingent beneficiary was named, and no new beneficiary form was updated after the husband died. When the second spouse dies, the default beneficiary of the IRA, worth around $500,000, is the estate. Instead of being distributed directly to a beneficiary, the funds are now part of the probate estate. The IRA will end up in the living trust through a pour-over will stating “I leave everything to my trust.” A simple update could have avoided legal fees, executor fees and delays.

Your estate plan is only as good as its last review. Getting comfortable with the concept of reviewing it every three to five years will protect your goals and your family.

Reference: The Press-Enterprise (Feb. 6, 2022) “Avoid probate and audit an estate plan regularly”


personal injury

Why Is Estate Planning Review Important?

Maybe your estate plan was created when you were single, and there have been some significant changes in your life. Perhaps you got married or divorced.

You also may now be on better terms with children with whom you were once estranged.

Tax and estate laws can also change over time, requiring further updates to your planning documents.

WMUR’s recent article entitled “The ‘final’ estate-planning step” reminds us that change is a constant thing. With that in mind, here are some key indicators that a review is in order.

  • The value of your estate has changed dramatically
  • You or your spouse changed jobs
  • Changes to your income level or income needs
  • You are retiring and no longer working
  • There is a divorce or marriage in your family
  • There is a new child or grandchild
  • There is a death in the family
  • You (or a close family member) have become ill or incapacitated
  • Your parents have become dependent on you
  • You have formed, purchased, or sold a business;
  • You make significant financial transactions, such as substantial gifts, borrowing or lending money, or purchasing, leasing, or selling assets or investments
  • You have moved
  • You have purchased a vacation home or other property in another state
  • A designated trustee, executor, or guardian dies or changes his or her mind about serving; and
  • You are making changes in your insurance coverage.

Reference: WMUR (Feb. 3, 2022) “The ‘final’ estate-planning step”


Retirement Planning

Reviewing Estate Plans Matters

If your estate plan or your parent’s estate plan hasn’t been reviewed in the last four years—or the last forty years—it’s time for an estate plan check-up—sooner, not later. Besides the potential for costing a lot to correct, says a recent article in Forbes entitled “5 Reasons To Have Your Parents’ Estate Plan Reviewed,” the documents may no longer work to achieve your parent’s wishes.

Rather than fix a messy situation after death, have an experienced estate planning attorney review the documents now. Here’s why.

Stale documents are anathema to financial institutions. If a power of attorney is more than twenty years old, don’t expect it to be received well by a bank or brokerage house. The financial institution will probably want to get an affidavit from the attorney who originally created the document to attest to its validity. Start with a hunt to find said attorney, and then hope that nothing occurs between the time that you request the affidavit and the time it arrives. For one client, the unexpected death of a parent during this process created all kinds of headaches. A regular review and refresh of estate documents would have prevented this issue.

State laws change. Changes to state laws change how estates are handled. They may be positive changes that could benefit your parents and your family. Let’s say your mother’s will leaves all of the contents of her home to numerous people. Locating all of these people becomes costly, especially if the will needs to be probated. Many states now allow for a separate document that lets personal items be disposed of, without being part of the probated estate. However, if the will has not been reviewed in ten or twenty years, you won’t know about this option.

Languages in estate planning documents change. In addition to changes in the law, there are changes to language that may have a big impact on the estate. Many attorneys have changed the language they use for trusts based on the SECURE Act. If your parent has a retirement account payable to a trust, it is critical that this language be modified, so that it complies with the new law. Lacking these updates, your parent’s estate may be subject to an increase in taxes, fees, or penalties.

Estate laws change over time. Recent years have seen major changes to estate law, from the aforementioned SECURE Act to changes in federal exclusions and gift taxes. Is your parent’s estate plan (or yours) in compliance with the new laws? If assets have changed since the last estate plan was done, there may be tax law changes to be incorporated. Are there enough assets available to pay the taxes from the estate or the trusts? If many accounts pass by beneficiary designation, getting beneficiaries to come up with the cash to pay the tax bill may be problematic.

The decedent’s wishes may not be followed, if documents are not updated. Here’s an example. A man came to an estate planning attorney’s office with his father’s will, which had not been updated. His father died, having been predeceased by the father’s sister. The man was the only living child. He and his father had a mutual understanding that the son would inherit the entire estate on the death of his father. However, his father’s sister had also died, and the will stated that her children would receive the sister’s share. The man had to share his inheritance with estranged nieces and nephews. Had the will been reviewed with an attorney, this mishap could have been prevented very easily.

Reference: Forbes (May 25, 2021) “5 Reasons To Have Your Parents’ Estate Plan Reviewed”