June 24, 2019
As estate planning lawyers, we regularly get asked how often our clients should conduct an estate plan checkup. While we work to make sure that the estate plans that we draft for our clients have an extended life, there are situations where reviewing and updating an estate plan makes good sense. We have shared our thoughts on the topic below.
Estate Plans Geared to Avoid a Need for Updates
As experienced attorneys, we draft estate plans to be flexible. We aim for our clients’ estate plans to not require updating. From our first meeting, we work with our clients to name successors, alternate agents, and trustees so that the death of one person does not normally require an estate planning update. We also discuss what would happen if a beneficiary predeceased them, so that we can plan for this through a last will and testament or trust.
Give Yourself Peace of Mind
A properly crafted estate plan can give you peace of mind, knowing your assets and family are well protected. Our estate planning lawyers will help you get there.
Do Estate Plans Need to Be Updated Every Five Years?
The simple answer is “No.” Most well-drafted estate plans do not need to be updated every five years. However, there are circumstances where a review and edited estate plan make sense. For example, changes in family circumstances such as a death, or significant changes in assets, are both good reasons to review your estate plan.
As a matter of good practice, reviewing your Wisconsin estate plan every three to five years is a good idea. Life can bring many changes in a single year, much less over three to five years. Reviewing the plan to confirm that it still matches the needs of your personal situation can save headache and disappointment when the estate plan is implemented.
What Kind of Life Events Count as Significant?
Most well-drafted estate plans will take into account the death of a child or the death of a spouse, and can accomplish what you wanted in these events. However, after significant life changes sometimes you will want to reconsider who is to be in charge of your affairs or who is to receive certain assets due to the death of a family member or a marriage, divorce, or birth.
Here are some of the typical life changes for which we suggest an estate plan checkup:
Young Children Have Grown Up
Young children have grown up and now the parent would like to name children to be in charge of their health, will, and trust affairs. Perhaps when the children were younger, a sibling or grandparent was named to be a trustee or agent under a power of attorney. Maybe grandchildren are now to be included as beneficiaries for college or educational expenses in a trust or other revisions or changes of heart.
Marriage or Divorce
Upon your marriage or divorce, it is crucial to have your estate plan reviewed and updated. The marriage or divorce of a child may also given reason for an estate plan checkup.
Changes in Your Family Tree
Additional children, grandchildren, or children or grandchildren born with special needs may require special attention. The passing of a child or grandchild could impact who you name as agents under a power of attorney, as trustee, or as beneficiary.
Tax or Law Changes
The impact of any tax or Wisconsin estate planning law changes should be reviewed.
Property or Asset Changes
Ownership of new property, and how it was acquired and titled, could require updates or suggestions on how better to incorporate new property into the estate plan.
As experienced attorneys, we do not expect our clients to know all of the issues. These reviews give us an opportunity to explore and identify issues that the client has not considered.
Our Wisconsin Estate Plan Review Process
In our estate plan review process, our estate planning attorneys walk with our clients through a step-by-step process to explore and document life changes that have occurred in recent years. We will share and discuss significant Wisconsin estate planning law changes that may have taken place.
For simple estates, our attorneys can review and discuss the current documents and any life changes in as little as half an hour. For more comprehensive estate plans, significant assets, or complicated tax issues, our review tends to be more involved, and may require more than one meeting. However, the review of most basic estate plans take place during the course of a single meeting.
What to Bring to an Estate Planning Checkup?
Much like when first setting up an estate plan, we will want to know your current assets, who owns the assets, and what beneficiaries are named on certain assets. Additionally, we will want to know about changes in the family, new family issues that may have arisen, family deaths or births, and any other concerns that you may have relating to estate planning, other life changes, or family members.
It is important to bring all of your current estate planning documents with you, including the following:
- trust (irrevocable trusts or revocable trusts or both);
- durable power of attorney for finances (Durable Power of Attorneys);
- advanced health care directives (Power of Attorney for Health Care);
- last wills and testaments (wills);
- marital property agreements;
- deeds; and
- a list of assets and current family members.
It can be helpful to review what we suggest you think about and bring to a first estate planning meeting.
What Happens During an Estate Plan Checkup?
We will look over the updated asset information, family information, and current estate planning documents. We will then review all of this estate planning information with you to discuss items such as the following:
Power of Attorney For Health Care
Does this document still reflect your values? Will it provide the care you want to receive at the end of life? Are changes needed as to your artificial life support directives, or are changes needed to the agents (people) you selected to be in charge of your health care decisions if you can no longer make your own health care decisions?
Durable Power of Attorney for Finances
Are changes needed to the agent (also called attorney-in-fact) you selected to be in charge of your finances? Maybe a selected child is no longer trustworthy or is in a difficult marriage and you want the child removed. Maybe a child has become very busy or has moved away, even out of the country? Perhaps you want to select different agents to help with your financial affairs if you can no longer do so.
Last Will and Testament and Trust
Are changes needed to the personal representative or trustees who will be in charge of your assets upon death? Who are the beneficiaries of the will or trust? Are revisions needed due to life changes or deaths?
Beneficiaries and Asset Titling
Are changes needed to old beneficiary designations due to changes or deaths? Should certain assets be placed in trust to avoid probate? Should a trust be created to avoid probate? Are newly acquired assets set up to name proper beneficiaries? Are there other issues with integrating assets into your current estate plan?
Have there been any significant changes in estate planning law? Is it time to think about protecting assets from a nursing home or Medicaid? Are there new issues such as a marriage or divorce? The list of “other” issues really is exhaustive.
The estate plan checkup process involves an in-person meeting to “walk through” the current estate plan and to discuss any potential changes. It is crucial that we meet directly with our client so that these issues can be thoroughly, openly, and candidly discussed.
A Cost-Effective Part of Successful Estate Planning
For a relatively small investment, you can review your plan and discuss possible updates due to changes in your heart, the law, or your family.
As experienced Wisconsin estate planning attorneys, we can efficiently review your current estate planning documents, assets, and family situation, to determine if any updates are needed or advised. Moreover, we have decades of experience drafting, reviewing, and updating all types of estate plans. We welcome the opportunity to meet with you about yours.