When to Update your Estate Plan?

Waiting too long to update an estate plan may lead to bad plans and hurt families. Here are some milestones when you should consider changes.

Many people say that they’ve been meaning to update their estate plan for years but never got around to doing it.   Our office is located near the hospital system, so we get a lot of calls for last minute changes, which is difficult, and sometimes not possible.  Worst of all, we occasionally have to probate out of date wills or administer old trusts that left complicated, unnecessary tax planning, unsuitable executors or trustees, or in some cases, beneficiaries the client meant to change, but never did.

As a way to avoid those scenarios, this blog will talk about when you need to review your estate plan.  This isn’t exhaustive and the best approach is to review the plan every few years, but these major life events often indicate a need to change your plan.  The list as follows comes from Kiplinger’s article entitled “12 Different Times When You Should Update Your Will” and gives us a dozen times you should think about changing your estate plan, as well as a few more of my own:

  1. You’re expecting your first child. The birth or adoption of a first child is typically when many people draft their first estate plan. In Texas the designation of a guardian for the child happens outside a will, but it is still important to provide a trust and trustee for that child in your estate plan as well.
  2. You may divorce. Update your estate plan before you file for divorce, because once you file for divorce, your estate plan and assets may not be able to change until the divorce is finalized. Doing this before you file for divorce ensures that your spouse won’t get all of your money if you die before the divorce is final.
  3. You just divorced. After your divorce, your ex no longer has any rights to your estate (unless it’s part of the terms of the divorce). However, even if you don’t change your estate plan, most states have laws that invalidate any distributive provisions to your ex-spouse in that old will. Nonetheless, update your estate plan as soon as you can, so your new beneficiaries are clearly identified and that any obligations created in the divorce are fulfilled.
  4. Your child gets married. Your current estate plan may speak to issues that applied when your child was a minor, so it may not address your child’s possible divorce. You may be able to ease the lack of a prenuptial agreement by creating a trust for your child in your estate plan to keep those assets out of the marriage.
  5. A beneficiary has issues. Estate plans frequently leave money directly to a beneficiary. However, if that person has an addiction or credit issues, update your estate plan to include a trust that allows a trustee to only distribute funds under specific circumstances.  It is often a good idea to create such a trust anyway in case issues arise in the future.
  6. Your executor or a beneficiary die or are incapacitated. If your estate plan named individuals to manage your estate or receive any remaining funds, but they’re no longer alive or suffering bad health, you should update your entire estate plan (especially powers of attorney).
  7. Your child turns 18. Your current estate plan may designate your spouse or a parent as your executor, trustee or other fiduciary, but years later, these people may be gone or not suitable. Consider naming a younger family member to handle your estate affairs.
  8. A new tax or probate law is enacted. Congress may pass a bill that wrecks your estate plan. Review your plan with an experienced estate planning attorney every few years to see if there have been any new laws relevant to your estate planning.  It is also a good idea to keep reading blogs like this one as we try to address significant changes that might affect you.
  9. You receive a financial windfall or loss. If you finally get a big lottery win or inherit money from a distant relative, update your estate plan so you can address the right tax planning. You also may want to change when and the amount of money you leave to certain individuals or charities.  Similarly, a significant financial loss may mean you can jettison unnecessary tax planning and can simplify your plan.  I find many people change their minds on beneficiaries if they think they will leave less money as well.
  10. You can’t find your original estate plan. This happens more than people realize.  If you cannot find your original Will or other estate planning documents, you should consider executing a new one.  First, if you can’t find it that typically indicates it’s so old it needs updating anyway, but in the case of wills you should probate the original.  It is sometimes possible to probate a copy, but that isn’t a given and you should avoid that scenario.
  11. You purchase property in another country or move overseas. Some countries have treaties with the U.S. that permit reciprocity of wills, but how well that works is another matter.  Transferring property in one country may be delayed, if the will must be probated in the other country first. Ask your estate planning attorney about how to address property in multiple counties.
  12. You relocate to a new state.  Estate plans don’t always need to change when you relocate, but there are nuances to each state’s estate and tax laws, so you should consult with a local attorney after you move.  For example, Texas is a community property state that changes how property is owned going forward for married couples and has no estate tax.  A new resident coming from a common law property state with a state estate tax like New York might benefit from a new plan.
  13. Your feelings change for someone in your estate plan. If there’s animosity between people named in your estate plan, you may want to disinherit someone or change your estate plan. You might ask your estate planning attorney about a No Contest Clause that will disinherit the aggressive family member, if he or she attempts to question your intentions in the estate plan.
  14. You get married (or remarried).  One milestone I like to point out that a surprising number of people don’t consider, is updating your estate plan after you get married or in the event you remarry.  Many people assume that their spouse becomes an automatic beneficiary of their estate plan, which isn’t true, although all states give some rights to the new spouse.  It is far better, especially in a second marriage where step children are involved, to update your estate plan to exactly what you want for you and your loved ones.
  15. Your own bad health.  One milestone I’m particularly sensitive to is your own bad health, especially cognitive health such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.  Many clients prepare plans when they are young that aren’t considering long term care, Medicaid or other planning, so that should be complete before incapacity prevents it.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 26, 2020) “12 Different Times When You Should Update Your Will”

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Estate Planning Mistakes by Famous People

Many estate planning mistakes by famous people illustrate on a grand scale what applies to all of us; the need for an up-to-date, quality estate plan.

The instructions for the disposition and management of one’s estate at death through the use of wills, trusts, and other devices can cover almost about any topic you can think of. While the majority of instructions in estate planning concern finances, wills and trusts frequently guide decisions regarding health care, guardianships, business, education and even which heir gets the entire Barry Manilow record collection.

Born2Invest’s recent article entitled “The biggest estate planning blunders of all time” looks at a few colossal estate planning mistakes by the rich and famous.  Estate planning mistakes by famous people show you what can go wrong in the worst of ways.

Estate planning usually conjures up thoughts of drafting a will by an attorney. Although the cost of drafting an estate plan varies significantly based on location and complexity, it can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. Regardless of the cost, hiring an experienced estate planning attorney will save your family time, money and anguish after your death.

With that said, let’s take a look at some estate planning mistakes by famous people who simply didn’t get around to this very important task.

Ted Williams (Baseball Legend). When Ted died in 2002, he had one will that said his body should be cremated, and another that instructed he should be cryogenically frozen. As you can imagine, there was a fight among his children. This resulted in Ted’s decapitation (postmortem). Therefore, the Splendid Splinter, the greatest baseball hitter of all time, had his body and head frozen in Arizona at Alcor Life Extension Foundation.

Sonny Bono (Singer and Congressman). Sonny didn’t create a will. As a result, he passed away intestate. A lawsuit was initiated by ex-wife and singing star, Cher, to collect $1.6 million in unpaid alimony, along with a fraudulent claim by an illegitimate child (disproven by DNA testing), and Sonny’s widow, Mary.

Heath Ledger (Actor). Heath failed to revise his will after the birth of his daughter. At his death in 2003, his entire estate was split between his parents and sisters, but they agreed to give all the money to his daughter.

Philip Seymour Hoffman (Actor). The Oscar-winning actor also never updated his will after the birth of his two daughters. Since he wasn’t married to his then girlfriend, there was an approximate $12 million estate tax that was owed.

Joe Robbie (the owner of the NFL Miami Dolphins). Robbie had a substandard estate plan that contained a pour-over will and revocable inter vivos trust. This was designed to defer estate taxes until after the death of his wife. However, it didn’t work as planned. She demanded her “elective share” as spouse, 30% of the husband’s illiquid estate, which created a $47 million tax bill that could only be settled by selling off his football team. His 11 children also went to court to fight over his estate.

James Brown (Singer). The “Godfather of Soul” wasn’t around to witness the 12-year epic legal battle among several blended families over his estate.

Barry White (Singer). White died in 2003 in the middle of divorce proceedings. Legally speaking, he was still only separated from his wife. As a result, she got it all, instead of his current girlfriend and mother of nine kids.

There are many more famous people who posthumously became members of this dubious club. Their eligibility for membership was poor estate planning that resulted in unintended—and in some cases, tragic—consequences. Although many Americans can’t really identify with these mega-wealthy or public icons, they do have assets and families and friends, and everyone should expect to need an estate plan.  See here for ideas on how to do it properly https://www.galliganmanning.com/a-will-is-the-way-to-have-your-wishes-followed/

The club of estate planning mistakes by famous people shows the rest of us the need for proactive professional planning. Be certain that you work with a qualified estate planning attorney, so that your estate plan doesn’t end up like the ones above.

Reference: Born2Invest (January 27, 2020) “The biggest estate planning blunders of all time”

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