At the end of any meeting where a will, trust or other document is executed, one of the common questions I receive is how often should a client’s documents be reviewed/changed. My common answer is that major changes to three main areas of importance-health, wealth and family-should trigger a call or email to your attorney to discuss what, if anything, needs to be changed.
It is my sincere hope that during this health and financial crisis, none of you experience any such changes. But, I would suggest that the current national crisis-and any future crisis-should provide a fourth clear reason to review your existing planning. Specifically, during this time when most of us are at home and not venturing out often, there are four areas that should be specifically reviewed, namely:
Fiduciaries: The current crisis has exposed the importance of additional factors to consider when selecting fiduciaries including executors, guardians and trustees. The physical and mental health of chosen fiduciaries may, under circumstances such as the present crisis, may not be as solid as you may wish it to be. Older fiduciaries who are more susceptible to the virus and who also are being advised to remain at home may not be in as great of a position to serve as they would under normal circumstances. Finally, while proximity is not an official barrier to selecting someone, travel limitations and availability should be factored into these choices.
Funding existing trusts. Whether a trust is irrevocable or revocable and regardless of its intended purpose, if it is not funded, then it accomplishes nothing. Individuals often execute trust agreements and wait till a later date to fund the trust. If you have not funded an executed trust, this is an opportune time to do that for many types of assets. Real property may pose certain problem due to the delays at the county clerk’s offices, but the paperwork can be begun now even if the documents cannot be filed until a later date
Completing beneficiary designations. Amongst the easiest things that you can do to bolster your estate planning is ensure all beneficiary designations for any paid on death accounts and policies (retirement account, life insurance and annuities typically) are up to date and correct. Most companies have the forms available online and those that do not can be contacted to get such forms.
Making taxable gifts. Individuals often forget to take advantage of the annual $15,000 gift tax exclusion ($30,000 for married couples) that provides a good opportunity to benefit their children and other heirs as well as reduce the size of their taxable estates. Like reviewing your beneficiary designations, this takes minimal effort and cost to achieve potentially significant results.
A general review of your existing estate plan may uncover additional areas that you may want to revise. In many cases, the benefit of these reviews far exceeds the downside of not doing so.