Class reunions are poignant reminders of change. With each passing year, our classmates grow a little grayer, perhaps a little balder, and maybe a little more expansive at the midsection. Good thing we are not like our classmates, right? Actually, we are. Father Time is catching up with all of us. That sobering fact should inspire us to reflect each year on our estate plans and whether they still do what we want them to do.
No matter how well we plan, our estate plans are going to veer off course. It is impossible to predict when that will happen, but it will. Ironically, change is one of the few constants in our lives. If we want our estate plans to work when they are called upon, we need to review them at least annually and keep them as up-to-date as we can. Here’s why.
The law changes
Our estate plans are subject to federal, state, and county laws, regulations, and ordinances, not to mention court decisions. The government seems to love changing the rules on us. Keeping up with those changes is critical, but difficult for the average person who does not deal with the law and stay current with its variations. Thus, we should consult the folks who do stay on top of those things (our estate planning attorneys, financial planners, and certified public accountants) about the changes that may require revisions to our estate planning documents and, perhaps, the estate planning strategies that have worked for us in the past but are now inadequate.
Our health changes
Not to rub it in here, but with age can come changes that impact our ability to make sound decisions and handle assets for ourselves and our loved ones. About 70 percent of us are going to be completely incapacitated for some period in our lives, and we need to have safeguards in place to address those kinds of eventualities. As our health changes, our estate plans may need to change.
Our financial situation changes
Over time, as we acquire and divest ourselves of assets, the assumptions that underlie our estate plans may go out of date. For example, I may have removed my residence from my trust in order to secure a home equity line of credit. If I don’t remember to put it back into my trust after the credit line becomes effective, my home may need to go through probate before it can be passed on to my loved ones. That can come as an unpleasant — but preventable — surprise.
Our relationships change
If you are like most people, the list of people you trust to make decisions on your behalf has changed over the past 10 years. Wouldn’t it be a good idea for your estate plan to reflect your current list? Having the wrong trustee can turn out to be a disaster.
Reviewing your estate plan annually is like changing the oil in your car or seeing your dentist every six months. You don’t have to do any of those things, but you will have much better outcomes if you do.
SCOTT MAKUAKANE, Counselor at Law
Focusing exclusively on estate planning and trust law.