So, you and your estate planning lawyer have put together a great plan for you. Congratulations! You are ahead of the majority of the population already. Keep in mind, however, that even though the hard part is done, there is some maintenance that you and your attorney will want to do from time to time. Your life and circumstances will likely change over the years, and you’ll want your estate plan to change accordingly.
Some of the changes that should precipitate a call to your estate planning lawyer are fairly obvious, but they can still be overlooked. After all, who has a baby and then thinks, “I should call my lawyer” in their sleep-deprived state? For that reason, it’s a good idea to do the occasional mental inventory to see if you’ve undergone any of these life changes since you last updated your estate plan:
- You got married. While a spouse does often inherit by default, there are a lot of other considerations to make. As a bonus, your estate planning lawyer will likely have great suggestions on how to adjust your plan in order to save your spouse on taxes and other time and money concerns when dealing with your estate.
- You got divorced. If you don’t want your ex-spouse to receive your property upon your death, it’s worth your while to get together with your estate planning lawyer to make sure the ex’s name is removed as a beneficiary of accounts and policies, taken out of the will, removed from trusts, etc.
- You’ve been widowed. When one spouse passes away, the other will need to update his or her estate plan to reflect that change. Not only will your beneficiaries likely change, but you may also have an inheritance from your spouse that now needs to be incorporated into your own estate plan.
- You had a child or grandchild. The birth or adoption of a new family member means that aspects of your estate plan may need to be changed to accommodate new needs. For example, you may want to create a college fund or set up a trust. Also, it’s very important to have your estate planning lawyer draw up legal guardianship papers to determine who will care for your child should you be unable to do so yourself.
- Your financial situation has changed. Whether you’ve received some sort of windfall, gotten a significant increase in pay, or have lost your job, it is important to review your estate plan to determine if it provides for these changes. If not, you’ll need your lawyer to adjust it appropriately.
- You’ve purchased real estate. A home often represents an individual’s biggest life investment, and you want to be sure to cover it in your estate plan. From how to pay it off to whom you want to leave it to and plenty in between, an estate planning lawyer will help incorporate this big change into your existing plan.
- You started (or ended) a business. Starting or ending a business warrants a trip to the estate planning lawyer’s office for plenty of reasons, not the least of which is that it will certainly have some sort of effect on your financial situation. Succession planning is another big aspect of running a business, as you’ll want to clearly outline what is to happen to the business if you die or become otherwise incapacitated. A little legal stuff now will save big headaches later.
There are, of course, other events that should likely trigger a call or visit to your estate planning lawyer, but these seven are some of the biggest. Fortunately, these types of updates will typically be fairly easy while benefiting you and your heirs greatly.