When was the last time you took a look at your estate plan? Last year? Five years ago? No doubt things have changed in your life and your financial situation since then.
Your estate plan is a key element of your financial plan. And, like your financial plan, it’s not a “once and done” item. Just as you get regular checkups for the other areas of your life that can change over time – such as your health, your vision, your car’s safety, and your investment mix – your estate plan needs a thorough review at least once every three to five years and whenever you have a life event. By doing so, you can make sure it reflects your family and business situation, the value of your assets, and your tax concerns as well as any recent changes in tax, estate, and probate law.
In the meantime, here are ten questions that can help you decide if your estate plan needs adjusting right now to make sure it’s in sync with your current financial situation.
1. Has your personal or business balance sheet situation changed?
Have you added assets you need to protect or taken on more debt (mortgages or loans) that you will need to factor into your plan? If the value or type of assets you own or liabilities you’ve assumed in your life or business have changed significantly, it may be time to update your estate plan and trust documents to reflect this.
For example, if your estate plan provides that some of your children will receive money/investments when you pass away and others will receive real estate or a share of your business, you’ll want to make sure that the future valuation of those assets will deliver the amount you intend to go to each of them. Perhaps your plan could be revised to accommodate any fluctuations in value.
2. What about your tax bracket – has it changed?
If you anticipate that your federal (or state or local) tax bracket will change based on an increase or decrease in your income this year, that could affect the amount of assets you decide to transfer to trusts or the amount you bequeath to charity to reduce your estate tax liability.
3. Have you started or sold a business?
If you’ve created a new business, you might consider purchasing life insurance so your spouse or children will have the money they need to continue it. If you have a business partner, a buy-sell agreement funded with life insurance can help keep the business afloat. If you sell your business, your estate plan needs to reflect the proceeds as additional assets as well.
4. Have you received an inheritance, large insurance settlement, bonus, or “golden handshake” package?
Whatever you decide to do with a single lump sum payment – increase your personal savings, reduce a loan or other debt, invest it in your business, or simply spend it on a large purchase – you’ll be changing the nature of your balance sheet. And per #1 above, any key change in your assets and liabilities is a reminder to revisit your estate planning strategy.
5. Are you in the process of becoming separated or divorced from your spouse?
A separation and impending divorce requires a comprehensive review of your estate plan as well as your financial plan. You’ll want to make sure all the assets you own separately and together are properly titled and your beneficiaries for all retirement accounts, annuities, and life insurance policies are updated as well.
6. Any marriage plans for yourself or your adult children?
Titling property correctly and updating beneficiaries is a key part of the estate planning process when you’re getting hitched, too. And because the marriage of any family member (or business partner) could completely change the dynamics of your family or business, you may need to adjust trust instructions and/or designate new trustees and successor trustees.
7. Have you added a family member to your household (a new child or grandchild)?
Make sure the new family member is acknowledged in your will and other key planning documents. Even if their addition won’t change your plans, you don’t want the omission of a legal heir to call your estate plan into question.
8. Did you lend money to your children or other family members?
You’ll need to decide how that will be managed by your estate. An unpaid loan can be considered taxable income to the borrower if it is no longer necessary to repay it. You may also have the option of designating the loaned amount as a gift.
9. Have you made substantial gifts to charity or to your children?
These gifts may remove taxable income from your estate and reduce future estate taxes.
10. Are you concerned that you might outlive someone you’ve named as your personal representative (executor), power of attorney, health care proxy, or trustee?
If the health status, availability, or capacity, of someone you’ve chosen for one or more roles in your estate plan or trust management has changed, consider designating a new person (or organization) to carry out your wishes.
Your Boston Private advisor is available as a resource to help you develop and implement the estate planning strategies that are consistent with your overall financial goals and appropriate for your personal and business needs. He or she is fully prepared to:
Your advisor can also introduce you to one of Boston Private’s Wealth Strategists, who can help you create trust solutions that match your unique circumstances. In situations where an objective third party is required, Boston Private also has the ability to serve as a corporate trustee.
The opinions expressed and information contained in this article are given in good faith, may be subject to change without notice, and are as of the date issued. The accuracy and completeness of this information is not guaranteed. Since each client’s situation is unique, please review your specific investment objectives, risk tolerance and liquidity needs with your advisor before a suitable investment strategy can be selected.