In life, there are a few obvious milestones like the birth of a child or a marriage that would trigger the need for an estate plan. But what about the in-between times in life? Would you expect to need an estate plan if you move out of state or if you decide to live with a significant other? These unexpected life milestones may mean it is time create or revisit your estate plan:
You Don’t Get Married: If you are living with someone but are not married and you want your significant other to inherit any of your property, you need a will or other estate planning documents.
You Approach Middle Age: Your assets are growing, so tax planning could save your heirs thousands in federal estate taxes. The time to act is when you and your spouse have a combined net worth, including house, retirement plans, and insurance proceeds that approaches the amount vulnerable to the federal estate tax (currently $5,000,000). You can give an unlimited amount to your spouse tax-free, by designating it in your will or by owning all assets jointly, for example. Update your estate plan to reflect family births, deaths, separations, or divorces. Review guardian, trustee, and personal-representative appointments. Reevaluate the nature of specific gifts to people or groups. And recalculate how much life insurance you need.
You Get Divorced: Review absolutely everything. The people in your life are changing, so must your estate plan. You need a new will altogether because in most states a divorce automatically revokes the provisions of a will that apply to a former spouse.
You may want to set up trusts to control the assets you plan to leave your children. And revise any living trusts to remove your former spouse as a beneficiary or trustee. Do likewise with a durable power of attorney or a living will. Plus, unless restricted by a divorce decree, change the beneficiaries on your life insurance, pensions, and IRA.
You Remarry: You and your new spouse may have to plan for families from prior marriages and for children you have together. Consider a prenuptial agreement, should you want to keep assets separate and nullify your inheritance rights to each other’s estates.
You Retire or Move to Another State: If you retire to another state (or any time you move to a new state, for that matter), have your estate-planning documents reviewed in light of that state’s laws and your current needs.
Durable powers of attorney become even more important. For example, if you are stricken with Alzheimer’s disease, you may become unable to give the required consent for financial transactions. Life insurance coverage may not be needed anymore. But if your estate faces an estate-tax liability or if your spouse is dependent on retirement income that will end with your death, consider keeping the coverage.
Your Spouse Dies: This loss can leave you emotionally vulnerable to financial mistakes. For at least several months, avoid selling your house or making other drastic changes. Seek expert advice. There may be tax benefits to disclaiming some of your inheritance in favor of alternate beneficiaries, such as your children, if your spouse’s estate is subject to the federal estate tax and you have enough assets of your own, including liquid assets.
The bottom line is: everyone should have some form of an estate plan and unfortunately, many people find this out too late. It is better to be proactive than reactive.