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When It Comes To Estate Planning, File and Forget is Not a Good Strategy

Category: Articles

By David Albert, CPA, CFP®

A good estate plan is a road map that explains in detail how you want your personal and financial affairs to be handled in the event of your incapacity or death. It allows you to have control over what happens to your property if you die or become incapacitated.

Like many other aspects of your personal and financial life, your estate plan should be reviewed on a periodic basis.

When should you review your estate plan?

Although there's no hard-and-fast rule about when you should review your estate plan, the following recommendations may offer some help:

  • You should review your estate plan immediately after any major life event (marriage, divorce, birth of a child, retirement, etc.)
  • You may want to do a quick review every year or two because changes in the economy and in the tax code often occur on a yearly basis
  • You should do a more thorough review every five years

Reviewing your estate plan will help you to keep track of, and respond to, any changes that need to be addressed.

There will be times when you'll need to make changes to your plan to ensure that it still meets all of your goals. For example, an executor, trustee, or guardian may die or change his or her mind about serving in that capacity, and you'll need to name someone else.

The following events should prompt a periodic review:

  • There has been a change in your marital status (many states have laws that revoke part or all of your will if you marry or get divorced) or that of your children or grandchildren
  • There has been an addition to your family through birth, adoption, or marriage (stepchildren), although the document may already address some of these changes.
  • Your spouse or a family member has died, has become ill, or is incapacitated
  • Your spouse, your parent, or other family member has become dependent on you
  • There has been a substantial change in the value of your assets or in your plans for their use
  • You have received a sizable inheritance or gift
  • Your income level or requirements have changed
  • You are retiring
  • You have made (or are considering making) a change to any part of your estate plan

Some items to review

Here are some things to make sure to consider while doing a periodic review of your estate plan.

  • Who are your family members and friends? How do you feel about them?
  • Do you have a valid will? Does it reflect your current goals and objectives about who receives what after you die? Does your choice of an executor, trustee or personal representative or a guardian for your minor children remain appropriate?
  • In the event you become incapacitated, do you have a living will, durable power of attorney for health care, or do-not-resuscitate order to manage medical decisions?
  • In the event you become incapacitated, do you have a living trust, durable power of attorney, or joint ownership to manage your property?
  • What property do you own and how is it titled (e.g., outright or jointly with right of survivorship)? Property owned jointly with right of survivorship passes automatically to the surviving owner(s) at your death.
  • Have you reviewed your beneficiary designations for your retirement plans, IRAs and life insurance policies? These types of property pass automatically to the designated beneficiary at your death.  Are there succession beneficiaries in place if the designated beneficiary pre-deceases?
  • Do you have any trusts, living or testamentary? Property held in trust passes to beneficiaries according to the terms of the trust.
  • Do you plan to make any lifetime gifts to family members or friends?
  • Do you have any plans for charitable gifts or bequests?
  • If you own or co-own a business, have provisions been made to transfer your business interest? Is there a buy-sell agreement with adequate funding? Would lifetime gifts be appropriate?
  • Do you own sufficient life insurance to meet your needs at death? Have those needs recently been evaluated?
  • Have you considered the impact of gift, estate, generation-skipping, and income taxes, both federal and state?

This is just a brief overview of some ideas you should consider for a periodic review of your estate plan. As always, each individual’s situation is unique. If you have questions please consult your tax accountant and/or estate planning attorney.

David Albert, CPA, CFP®, is a shareholder in Rubino & Company’s tax practice.  He also is in charge of the wealth management practice of the firm and is a practicing attorney.  He has over thirty years of experience working with wide range of clients assisting them with complex tax, estate planning, and financial advisory issues.    

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