By Linda Toga, Esq.
With the COVID-19 pandemic on everyone’s mind, many people who have not engaged in estate planning have contacted me about how best to proceed with the development of an estate plan.
It seems that the fear of the virus has made people understand the need for estate planning. However, even if you have a will or a trust, a power of attorney and/or a healthcare proxy, now is a good time to review your documents to confirm that they still express your wishes and meet your needs. Advanced planning is not something you think about once and forget. Successful planning requires that you periodically review and possibly revise your documents to reflect changes in your life circumstances.
Some things to think about are:
Your beneficiaries: Have any of the beneficiaries named in your will or trust passed away? If so, you may want to name some new beneficiaries to share in your estate. Even if a beneficiary is still living, you should ask yourself if that person is still someone to whom you wish to leave a bequest. Relationships change over time. Are there new people in your life who are important to you? Are there beneficiaries named in your documents with whom you now have little or no contact, perhaps as the result of a divorce or relocation? Did you name a charity that no longer exists as a beneficiary? Are any of the beneficiaries now disabled? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you should consider making changes to your will or trust.
The bequests: If you financial situation has changed since you created your estate plan and you can now make more generous bequests, you may want to revisit the size of bequests made to certain individuals. The converse is also true. If your estate is likely to be significantly smaller, perhaps you want to limit the bequests you are making either by removing some beneficiaries or decreasing the amount or percent of your estate going to each beneficiary.
Your fiduciaries: The word fiduciaries refers to the people you have named as executor, trustee, agent and/or guardian in your estate planning documents. If any of the people you named as a fiduciary have passed, you should name a successor. If you named a sibling as an executor because your children were minor and now they are responsible adults, perhaps you want to name one of more of your children as the executor(s) of your estate.
Many clients revise their estate plans and name their children as agents on their powers of attorney or healthcare proxies when their children are older, more responsible and in a better position to make important decisions. This may be something you want to consider. If you named guardians to care for your children in the event you die when the children are still minors, it is very important to revisit this appointment. Perhaps your children have attained the age of majority and no longer need a guardian in which case the provision naming a guardian can be deleted.
If a guardian may still be needed, you should consider the relationship the named guardian has with your children. Perhaps the person you named no longer has a good relationship with your children, or they have moved out of state and could only serve if your children are relocated. Has the guardian’s financial situation or living arrangements changed to the point that taking in and caring for your children will be overly burdensome? Since the guardian you name may be raising your children, all of these issues deserve serious thought.
Although there are many issues to consider when reviewing your estate plan, the points mentioned above can provide a good starting point. Retaining an experienced estate planning attorney to review your documents with you and to discuss any changes you may want made will ensure that your estate plan will once again reflect your wishes.
Linda M. Toga, Esq provides legal services in the areas of estate planning and administration, real estate, small business services and litigation. Call 631-444-5605 or email Ms. Toga at [email protected] to schedule a consultation.