By Melody Juge
Published: Jan 11, 2017
Major life changes and how they may affect your estate plan
If you made any big decisions recently, you should evaluate your estate plan.
As we enter the new year it's a good time to reflect on major life changes that may have occurred for you and your family during the past year.
Changes like; a marriage, birth of a child, death of a family member, a change in health status, divorce, change of jobs, caring for a special needs child, entering retirement, charitable giving decisions, selling of a primary residence or investment property. Any one of these events could trigger the need to revise your estate plan by making adjustments to your will or creating an amendment to your trust or reassigning beneficiary(s); both primary and contingent.
Here are five considerations to see if you have any estate housekeeping to do...
Who is assigned as beneficiary(s) on each of your accounts? As a rule it is a good idea to confirm annually with any company pension or deferred compensation plan that the named beneficiaries are listed exactly as you intended. You may think, "I have done this already and I haven't had any changes in my family status." Check anyway, companies and their human resource departments make mistakes. Be sure that it's not with your accounts. Many times people will have only a primary beneficiary listed. In addition to your primary beneficiary(s) be certain that you have listed contingent beneficiary(s). It is best to request and then use the appropriate account specific beneficiary form to make any beneficiary changes. In the absence of an appropriate beneficiary assignment your heirs will be subjected to the custodian's default policy.
Some of the most catastrophic estate planning mistakes stem from IRA beneficiary(s) problems. Contrary to what most people think; the passing of IRAs can be complicated. Inaccurate beneficiary assignments can wreak havoc on an estate and can create unnecessary tax consequences. Most beneficiary(s) mistakes derive from major life changes that occurred due to a death or divorce where the beneficiaries were never changed/reassigned. It is a popular misconception, that IRAs are covered by a will. An IRA is passed directly to the named beneficiary as it appears on the beneficiary form. The beneficiary assignment is senior to what is stated in the will. So if you want someone to have some or all of your IRA you will need to change the beneficiary on the actual IRA itself.
Create a financial durable power of attorney as well as a medical/health care durable power of attorney. I take this one step farther and suggest that the adult children of our clients also have their own durable power of attorney. These are the legal documents which are required, in order to have someone else – a trusted person you have chosen - act in your place to make appropriate medical and financial decisions for you should you lose capacity. Illness and incapacity can be sudden and come at any age. Without a durable power of attorney your loved ones will be relegated to a court of law to obtain authority to handle your affairs.
Check all your accounts for proper title. Maintaining consistent title on checking, savings and investment accounts, can be a challenge for some people. This also includes the title on your home, your life insurance policies, annuity contracts etc. If your trust is in one name but you have accounts that are titled differently it could cause problems for your heirs at the time of your death. Here is an example; the (fictitious) name of my example is Frederick James Smith. Everyone calls him Jim. He goes by Jim Smith. Jim has several accounts that are titled Jim Smith and a few titled F. James Smith with the title of his trust being Frederick James Smith. The lack of consistency on account titles along with not using your legal name could create uncomfortable and costly delays for your heirs at the time of your death. The primary document of identification when someone dies is their death certificate. The death certificate holds the legal name of the deceased and that is what must be submitted as proof of death to any company before they will pay the beneficiary. If the titles do not match the process will be grossly delayed.
Notify your attorney of any changes in your family status that may affect a possible change in your estate plan. Annual review of your estate plan is mandatory, even if it is only a call to your estate planning attorney to double check on any changes in the law that might apply to you. Don't wait. Make your call today.