Many people, with or without family, will have executed a Will or a Revocable Trust at some point in their lives as part of their “estate plan”. After executing those documents, they check that task off their “to-do” list and move on with “more important” things in their lives – often not revisiting those documents for years.
However, if you own a car, then you know it requires regular servicing in order to perform well and be reliable. More than likely, your car came with a recommended maintenance schedule based on how many miles it has been driven. After a certain number of miles, you need to change the oil, rotate the tires, install new brake pads and so on.
If you have a newer model car, one of those reminder lights might pop on to tell you when to get to the service station. Whether you have a reminder light or a service manual to remind you, generally, there is a way for you to know when it is time for you to bring your car in for routine maintenance so you can be sure that your car won’t break down when you need it most.
Like your car, your estate plan needs “servicing” if it is going to perform the way you want it to when you need it most. Your estate plan is a snapshot of you, your family, your assets and the tax laws in effect at the time it was created. All of these change over time, and so should your estate plan. It is simply unreasonable to expect that the simple will written when you were a newlywed can equally address your needs now that you have a growing family, or now that you are divorced from your spouse, or now that you are retired and have a number of grandchildren needing financial help with a higher education! Over the course of your lifetime, your estate plan will need check-ups, maintenance, tweaking, maybe even replacing more than once.
So, how do you know when it’s time to give your estate plan a check-up? Well, instead of having mileage checkpoints as your car would, your estate plan has event checkpoints.
Generally, any change in your personal, family, financial or health situation, or a change in the tax laws, could prompt a change in your estate plan.
It’s a good idea to review your estate plan at least every two years. You would be amazed how much in life can change in two-year’s time.
Set aside a specific triggering event (your birthday, anniversary, family gathering – Christmas, Thanksgiving) to review it. Keep these events in mind each time you read through your documents. If you think a change may be in order, don’t write on your original document; contact your attorney.
It is likely that most changes can be handled by a simple amendment that is attached to your current will or trust.
What Do You Do with Your Estate Plan once you have One?
Think for a few moments about what would happen if you became incapacitated or died today.
● Would your spouse, family and successor trustees know what to do?
● Would they know where to find your estate planning and health care documents?
● Do they know who should be notified?
● Do they know what insurance you have and the benefits they can apply for?
● Do they know what assets you own and where they are located?
● Do they know who your attorney and accountant are?
● If you own a business, do they know what to do to keep it operating?
● Do they know who to call if they need help?
You don’t have to tell your family everything about your assets right now. But it is very important that they know where to find this information when they need it. So, organize it and let someone know where to find it. The point is to try and make things as easy as you can for your loved ones.
Give copies of your signed health care documents to your physician and designated agent. Keep the originals (titles, estate plan, health care documents) in one safe place like a fireproof safe in your home. You may also want to give a copy to your successor trustee; at the least, go over the main provisions with him or her.
Barbara M. Pizzolato, Esq.
After obtaining her J.D. from New York Law School in 1987, Ms. Pizzolato obtained her license to practice law in New Jersey (1987), New York (1988), Connecticut (1988) and Florida (2002).
Since moving to Fort Myers, FL in 2002, Ms. Pizzolato has maintained her license to practice law in NJ, NY, CT and FL and actively practices law in NY, NJ and FL.
Ms. Pizzolato is a member of:
. The Florida Bar (Real Property, Probate & Trusts and Business Law Sections)
. The Lee County Bar Association;
. The American Bar Association (Litigation, Practice Management and Tax Sections);
. The New York State Bar Association; and
. The Suffolk County Bar Association.
Ms. Pizzolato has represented thousands of clients in generating and implementing their estate plans since opening her own practice in 1994 and accepts invitations to speak on trusts and estates topics.