You may have retained an estate attorney to help you draft documents to provide for your family and distribute your assets. In an effort to get your affairs in order, you might have a will, trust, and power of attorney reviewed, signed, and filed away. If so, you’ve done more than many people and you’re on the right track. But there is far more to estate planning than preparing the standard documents and checking it off your to-do list.
Estate planning is not a set it and forget it process.
Often people think that once their standard estate planning documents are done, they have their bases covered. Many responsible individuals get a will in place early — as soon as they begin acquiring assets, get married, or have their first child. However, life goes on and things change, sometimes even drastically, and people often make the mistake of neglecting to revisit their earlier decisions.
You may have a more complex mix of assets or more potential heirs. The people you named may have died or some new people may have been born. Past relations could have ended or been damaged and new relationships might not be covered. All of this should be taken into consideration because every aspect is more fluid than you might think.
In other words, periodically ask yourself what the end result would be if your documents were to be executed today as they were written. If you aren’t satisfied with the answer, make the appropriate changes right away.
Estate planning is not just about death.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that estate planning is about more than just your financial legacy, it’s also about planning for your life. One of the most important, but often overlooked, aspects of estate planning is actually protecting yourself as you age or in the event that you become disabled.
If you are lucky, you will stay healthy, mobile, and independent into your golden years, but the reality is most people decline as they age, no matter how well they’ve taken care of themselves. For this reason, your estate plan should address how you want to be cared for should the need arise.
You would be wise to include vulnerability planning into your estate plan. Vulnerability planning is the process of protecting yourself financially in your lifetime, so you are not only properly cared for but also protected financially from people taking advantage of you when you don’t have the capacity or strength to do so.
Avoid common mistakes in estate planning.
Another reason to revisit your estate plan is that you may have made some common mistakes. For example, your will may state that a particular heir should receive an asset while your account documents name a different person. Something might be unclear, vague, or confusing. You might not have even had conversations with your named powers of attorney and executors to make sure they are willing to handle the responsibility. Not only are you risking your own financial security and legacy, but you may also be opening the door for ugly family feuding and damaged relationships in your later years or after your death.
If you have done your estate planning in the past, it is likely time to revisit it with your financial professionals and your lawyer. Do a lifeboat drill, if something had happened yesterday, would the actual result of your will be what you want it to be? Have you considered your life – your care, and protections should you become financially vulnerable to those who may try taking advantage of you. It may be time to update your will, consider strategies to protect you during your lifetime and your heirs. The reality is, none of us know how much time we have, so these matters can’t wait.