There are, of course, some general rules about how often to dust off your Wills, Trusts, and other estate planning documents to make sure they still work. Much, however, depends upon your personal circumstances.
If any of the following apply, call your estate planning lawyer now:
- You’re moving in with your significant other, combining finances, and getting ready to buy and/or furnish a new home together. There are many reasons moving in together is not a step to be taken lightly! Make sure you do it the smart way by thinking ahead and getting professional legal advice to avoid unnecessary conflict, drama, and unintended consequences.
- You’re getting married. Don’t assume that will automatically ensure you’re both covered legally or financially. If you’re a same sex couple, for now you still face additional hurdles to accessing the same desired outcomes as opposite sex couples under federal law. Find out what you need to do to ensure that your spouse benefits as you really intend.
- You’re getting divorced. Make sure your divorce decree and your estate planning documents are not inconsistent. You probably no longer want your ex-spouse making decisions for you in the event of your incapacity, during your final moments of life, of following your death and you may not want him or her to benefit financially either.
- You’re getting remarried and blending your families, or your ex is. If you are remarrying or your ex-spouse is, you may want to ensure that what you leave to your children remains only for your children rather than allowing it to pass to the new spouse or his or her children. Don’t assume that’s what will automatically happen as without proper planning it very well may not. To provide for your spouse’s child who is not biologically your own, you may wish to consider adopting and you should make those wishes explicit in your estate plan.
- You’re having a baby. There are so many things to think about and plan when you’re expecting a child. While it is far more fun to choose names and plan nursery decor, one of your most important plans for your baby is to ensure that you’ve done everything possible to provide for your baby if something should ever happen to you.
- You want to adopt a baby or you’re adopting a child. However you become a parent, it’s your responsibility to ensure you’ve done everything legally and practically possible to provide for your child if something should ever happen to you. You need to make emergency plans for while the child is a minor but also think ahead to what sort of safety net and legacy you want to provide when that child becomes an adult. Remember that you do not have to wait until the adoption is finalized to make provisions for a child you are adopting under your estate plan. If you choose to wait until the long process if completed, that child has no legal right to inherit from you. If you have a great, ongoing relationship with your estate planning lawyer it will be easy to make changes once the adoption is finalized.
- You’re having another baby or adopting another child. Don’t assume that your next child is covered by a previous estate plan. You need to make sure that all of your estate planning documents include all of your children which may be a very simple yet extremely critical edit to a couple of documents. This is also the time to revisit your choice of legally named guardians for your children. The people who agreed to raise your children to adulthood if anything ever happened to you may have experienced changes to their families and the difference between your then one or two and now two or three or more children may be more than your named guardians would be able or willing to handle now.
- You’re buying (more) life insurance. If you have young children you support you should have a life insurance policy. This is not an area in which you want to play the “what are the odds” game. The value of your policy affects your estate plan, so be sure to revisit that and see whether you may need to do some additional tax planning to protect your life insurance investment. Beware of unintended consequences of using life insurance policies as investment vehicles. If you’re considering buying a new life insurance policy, talk with your estate planning attorney first to make sure you do it the right way.
- You’re buying a home or vacation home. Buying real estate is usually the largest purchase we ever make and the way you “take title to” or own that asset is critically important in terms of your estate plan; make sure your real estate attorney and estate planning attorney guide you through the options in light of your big picture.
- You’re selling a home or vacation home. The sale of one of your largest assets undoubtedly affects the shape of your estate plan and may require changes to that plan to avoid unintended consequences.
- You’re starting a business. As any small business owner especially knows, it’s a very thin line between the personal and the professional. Your business plan, business succession plan, and personal estate plan go heart in hand in hand. There is so much more to owning your own business than just a great idea and so much more to leaving something truly useful and enduring for your loved ones than just making it through the busy days with income at the end. Start, as they say, with the end in mind and tie it all together for the greatest likelihood of lasting success.
- You’re selling or leaving behind a business. The sale of your business will affect your assets and may affect the disposition of your estate. Be sure to discuss it with your estate planning attorney and your family so you leave a blessing rather than a curse.
- Your family recently experienced the loss of a loved one. If a member of your immediate family dies you will need to update your estate plan and possibly administer his or hers. There are time-sensitive matters so be sure to let your lawyer know right away so she can help make it easier for you and your family during a very difficult time.
- You recently inherited money from your parents or other family member. Most inheritances are completely dissipated in short order. If you inherit from a loved one, talk with your estate planning lawyer right away to make sure what you receive is protected so it’s available for you and then your loved ones in the best possible ways.
- You are expecting or recently received a settlement or court judgment award from a lawsuit. Talk with your estate planning lawyer about the best way to protect any money you receive through a court settlement or judgment to ensure it stays to help you as intended.
- You won the lottery! This can be a blessing, instead of a curse, but you have to do some work to make it possible. You will need to strategize with your estate planning lawyer and financial advisor right away.