The New Year is always a good time reflect on the those we’ve lost in the past twelve months–including those noteworthy figures who had a real impact on American culture. Not least among these are two stars of the silver screen, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Walker, who have left us with a valuable lesson we all should take to heart. No, not just about the dangers of drug abuse and reckless speeding. Neither celebrity had updated their will in over a decade–Hoffman in 2004 and Walker in 2001–despite substantial changes in their lives.
You should do an estate plan review at any time your and your loved ones’ circumstances changes. Hoffman, for example, had two children between his last will and his death, leaving them completely undesignated. In the ten years since Hoffman had made his will, he also had made a fortune, approximately $15 million of which will go to pay the tax bill because he hadn’t done any tax planning and was not married to his partner, to whom he left the vast majority of his fortune.
Updating your estate plan whenever your have major life changes – like a birth, death or divorce – is key to making sure your will stays valid and that your intentions for taking care of the people you love are carried out. Here are some additional steps you can take to be sure your estate plan works like it should:
- Can you find it? We’ve all seen the movies. The wealthy grandparent writes a secret will and wiles it away behind a painting or inside a hollowed-out cane so that the hero may find it before his or her villainous siblings can destroy it. Well, life is no Hollywood drama and it’s a safe bet you wish to see your entire family provided for–that means placing your will and estate plan somewhere safe and secure (just not in a safe deposit box or your family won’t be able to reach it without a court order!).
- Can your executors do the job? Make sure to have backups. Should anything happen to your primary executor or they simply do not feel up to the task, others will be there to pick up the slack and see to what needs doing. Just be sure to speak with each prospective executor about the task and check that they are willing to take it on.
- Does your plan contradict itself? If the choice of beneficiary for any particular account doesn’t match up on all of your documents, your loved ones may have a contentious courtroom drama in their futures.
Did you name guardians? Children under the age of 18 are going to need someone to watch over them. As with assigning an executor, make sure your planned guardian is aware of and willing to take on the task. Be sure to designate a second or even third choice just to be safe–neither you nor your children want an unfamiliar judge making choices about whose hands they end up in.
- Did you accidentally disinherit someone?! Designating beneficiaries can be a good deal trickier in blended families. Give me a call if you are unsure about having everything in order and I will be happy to go over your plan with you. Of course, if you intend to intentionally disinherit someone, be sure to make that explicit.
- Do you have help? In this day and age, a quick Internet search will find a dozen different will or estate plan templates that you might feel like applying to your family. “Great,” you might say, “I can just do this myself!” WAIT! Have you ever ordered clothes online and found upon their arrival that they either look nothing like their picture or are a terrible fit? Will a “one size fits all” plan really be best for your family’s financial future?
Don’t put your loved ones at risk–leaving them in the experienced hands of a qualified attorney will give you the peace of mind of knowing that your wishes will be carried out entirely as you would like them to be. The best way to learn about protecting your family is to talk with us about this in a family estate planning consultation, where we can identify the best strategies for you to provide for and protect the financial security of your loved ones. To schedule an appointment, call us at 612-206-3701 or reach out via our contract form.
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