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Estate Planning Awareness Week: How to Prepare for the Future

October 21-27 is Estate Planning Awareness Week

Now that summer vacations are over and fall is upon us, it is a great time to review or move forward with your estate planning. Because estate planning involves comprehensive planning and not just a single document, it is important to regularly review all aspects of your plan, your finances and your family’s needs.

Things to Consider

Beneficiary Designations: For assets such as life insurance and retirement accounts, the beneficiary designation form is a crucial document. If these documents are not filled out properly, the wrong or unintended person could end up with the asset, completely unraveling your estate plan. It is prudent to periodically review these documents to make sure the desired primary and contingent beneficiaries are named. Life can change quickly, and sometimes, changing beneficiary designations is the last thing on anyone’s mind.

Ensuring proper ownership (“title”) on property: If you have a trust as part of your estate plan, you have to ensure that the assets that are intended to be owned by your trust have either been retitled in the trust’s name or will transfer to the trust automatically at your death. To make sure this is done, check your account statements, beneficiary designations and any other documents associated with your assets. If you have not properly funded your trust, those assets will go through probate, which can be a time consuming and expensive process.

Your Appointed Decision Makers: Proper estate planning involves a lot of moving parts and people. You have probably named a Successor Trustee in your trust, an Attorney-in-Fact (“Agent”) under your Financial Power of Attorney and a Health Care Agent under your Health Care Power of Attorney. Depending upon how long it has been since you signed your documents, it is important to review your decisions and make sure that these individuals are still able to act on your behalf if you need them to. Just like your life has gone through changes, these individuals may have had a change in circumstances that make them less able or desirable to serve in these important roles.

Important Information for Trusted Decision Makers: While your estate planning documents appoint individuals to act on your behalf and give them the authority to do so, your appointees also need necessary information to properly handle your affairs, manage your finances, or make decisions on your behalf. As you review your estate planning documents, it is also a good idea to compile a “road map” for your appointees.  Here is some of the information you may want to consider:

  • Your social security number
  • Your doctor’s names and contact information
  • Your pertinent medical information, including care providers and medications (Does your estate plan address HIPAA?  Older plans which predate HIPAA would not contain these important provisions.)
  • Your professionals’ (accountant, financial advisor, life insurance agent, etc.) names and contact information
  • Bank account numbers
  • Where to find your important documents including the location of file cabinets, safety deposit boxes and how to access digital devices and information. Note it is important for your documents to have the digital assets updates. Older estate plans would not have these important provisions.
  • Contact information, dates of birth and social security numbers for your children
  • Information and care instructions regarding your pets

By compiling this information and making it accessible to your trusted decision-makers, you can help them be better prepared to carry out their roles.

Schedule a Meeting

Life changes pretty quickly. It is important to periodically review your estate planning documents to make sure they reflect any changes that have occurred in your personal life or in the law. If there have been marriages, divorces, deaths, births, etc. in your family, this can impact your estate plan, and it is crucial that the instructions in your estate planning documents reflect your wishes.

About the Author

Lena S. Barnett
Attorney & Counsellor at Law
Lena Barnett & Associates, L.L.C.
(301)-654-2330
lenabplans@lenabarnett.com
www.lenabarnett.com

Lena S. Barnett is nationally recognized as a top estate planning attorney, author and speaker. She is a member of Revere Bank’s Lower Montgomery County-DC Regional Board.

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