High priority should be given to keeping estate documents updated.
According to Albert Hehr, primary estate planner and chair of the estate planning group at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg and Lewis LPA in Woodmere, and Dana DeCapite, associate in the estate planning group at Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff LLP in Cleveland, people should review their plans at least every two to three years.
Both attorneys said various life events should trigger reviews because these events could necessitate changes.
“It’s things like marriages, deaths and change of circumstances surrounding beneficiaries, each of those things means that the estate plan needs to be evaluated,” Hehr said. “There are new marriages, the expecting of a child, divorces or death. It’s especially hard if someone passes away to have them named in your will. There’s also buying a new home and bankruptcies. (These events) help push updates and make people consider how wealth is being left.”
DeCapite mirrored Hehr’s thoughts, saying because plans are reviewed doesn’t mean anything has to be changed.
“I think the reason that some clients don’t go back and re-evaluate those documents because it could be an overwhelming process to go through and the documents may not be fresh in their mind,” DeCapite said.
She said people should be current on which family members will be included when estate planning. Otherwise, the estate owner’s wishes may not be carried out accordingly.
“That could mean a variety of things, like updating your power of attorney documents to name the appropriate people to make decisions,” she said. “If these aren’t frequently updated or reviewed, (the estate owner) runs the risk of having people in fiduciary roles that aren’t suited for those roles or assets being distributed to people or institutions that are no longer aligned with the client’s wishes.”
DeCapite noted when it comes to beneficiaries in general, estate owners also should keep tabs on what is going on in the lives of those that are named in the will. “Beneficiaries could also trigger a change (in the estate plan),” she said. “Setting up an estate plan that accommodates your beneficiaries’ complexities is also important. They should know what is going on with their grandchildren and great-grandchildren as individuals when they are leaving assets.”
Hehr and DeCapite recommended gathering any updated information and seeking a professional to assist them when they start to review estate planning documents.
“The final piece would be to seek a qualified professional, especially someone who is focused on estate planning as their practice of choice,” Hehr said. “Ensuring your attorney has that specific knowledge is important to the process.”
DeCapite suggested clients review a summary of what has been done in the plan when they are ready to go back and re-evaluate. Most estate planning attorneys perform this service, she said.
“In most cases, some clients would prefer to have a sit-down with the attorney even if it doesn’t generate a change,” she said. “Clients also don’t have to wait every three years to re-evaluate, too. Whatever is new in your life financially and if it feels like it may affect the future of your estate plan, just call your attorney and ask them.”