The New Year is officially here! There are so many things to do right now to launch 2018 the right way for you and your family. Are you unwinding from busy holidays? Jumping back into a full-time work schedule? Or just trying to make sure you have the support you need to make this year a success?
No matter what you are focusing on right now, do not neglect thinking about your estate planning goals. The New Year is the time that most of us think about what we will accomplish throughout this year. While this is important, don’t limit yourself to only thinking about this year. Instead, make it one of your goals in the New Year to ensure that your legal planning really can do what you need it to.
This starts with evaluating your existing plan in light of where you are now and where you are headed in the future. Things change, and your estate plan needs to grow with you. Let us share our key questions to ask of your estate plan right now. If you do not have an estate plan, these questions can work for you too. You can use them as you start from scratch with your estate planning attorney to determine what you need to protect yourself and your family. This starts with evaluating your existing plan.
1. Do you have the right person in place to make your decisions? If you cannot make your own decisions, you will need someone with legal authority to act for you. Each of your loved ones have different personalities and capabilities. It is important for you to decide who you think would best fit each role within your estate plan, not what you think they would prefer. Things change, and now is the time to decide if you need to update who your decision makers should be.
2. Are your objectives the same? Births, deaths, incapacity, job changes, new laws… nothing is certain but change. Does your estate plan currently address how things have changed in your life or have changed in the law? Although conversations about sensitive topics, such as money and death, can be challenging, you need to have them. To ensure the conversation is timely and targeted as the year begins, decide beforehand which objectives you want to meet and what you may need to change.
3. Have you carefully reviewed your documents? Prior to any decisions being made, read your documents! Although legal documents can be complex, you are well served to know what your documents say. Do you need changes? Do you thoroughly understand them? Make a list of the language in the documents you may need help understanding or wish to change.
4. Are your wishes and decisions clearly and concisely stated? To avoid confusion, make sure your wishes are not only current but clear. You may want to consider adding a letter to your family members to help them understand what your goals are and to help them during a time that will be emotionally difficult. If you have never prepared such a supporting document, make it your goal in the New Year to add this to your estate plan.
5. Are your questions answered? While most of us need an estate plan, we may not know how it will actually work? Do not wait to meet with your attorney to ask how your estate plan will operate when it is needed. For example, will your attorney be on call to help your family members? Who needs a copy of your documents? How will your decision makers know to act if something happens?
Discussions about estate plans are rarely settled in one day, and they evolve over time. To help our clients we developed our Client Care Maintenance Program. It is designed specifically to keep our clients current and provide them with the concierge on-call attorney support they need.
Commit to making the changes you need this New Year to ensure you have an estate plan that you need: one that reflects your current wishes and will actually work the way you want.
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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He is all about family and has a passion for educating his community about trust and estate planning, veterans issues, and how to protect what matters most.