Updating Your Estate Plan: When and Why
Let's say you already have an estate plan in place. What are some considerations for when or why you should update your estate plan? Wills, trusts, health care documents, and powers of attorney should not be static documents.
It's a good idea to review your estate plan every two to three years to ensure that your wishes and intentions are still reflected in those documents.
After a major life event has occurred consider how that event impacts your estate plan. Reviewing your estate plan at these key moments ensures that you haven't overlooked anything and that your estate plan remains consistent with your wishes. It is a good idea to review your estate plan at life events such as the following:
If you recently got married, you might want to name your spouse as personal representative, agent for powers of attorney, or trustee for any trusts you might establish.
After a divorce, previous estate planning documents might need to be revised or revoked.
Children or grandchildren
If you welcome a new child into your family, you might want to consider who will be named guardian if both you and your spouse die. Perhaps a minor child is now an adult or you now have grandchildren. Such changes warrant a review of your estate plan.
The Death of a Loved One
The death of a loved one might mean that the deceased, whom you named as a beneficiary, can no longer inherit. Check your will, trust, or other estate planning documents to ensure that the named persons can still inherit.
Financial Status Change
You might have experienced a significant change in the value of your personal assets, business, or real estate. If this is the case, assess your financial status for possible tax planning that needs to occur before your death.
The above examples are not a comprehensive list. Instead, they are ideas that provide a few examples of when reviewing your estate planning documents is a good idea.
A Few Notes About Probate
What is probate?
After a person dies, their assets need to be distributed to their heirs. Probate is the legal process of figuring out what assets the deceased owned and then transferring those assets to the heirs.
Is probate always required?
No. Whether or not probate needs to be opened depends on many factors. Probate is not always necessary, but in some situations it may be required.
Can probate be opened even if the deceased did not have a will?
Yes. If there is no will, the person appointed by the court distributes the decedent’s assets according to Washington's intestate laws.
How is a personal representative involved in the probate process?
A personal representative is a person (typically named in a will) that the court appoints to pay bills and taxes, deal with the deceased person’s belongings, and distribute the remaining assets to the heirs.
What are probate assets?
Probate assets can include real estate titled in the deceased person's name, financial accounts with no beneficiary designations, cash, vehicles titled in the deceased person's name, and tangible personal property owned by the deceased.
What are non-probate assets?
Washington state statute defines what non-probate assets are. Typically, these are assets that are not distributed through a will and that are distributed to beneficiaries according to other documents. Some examples include financial accounts that are held jointly with right of survivorship or have a transfer on death or paid on death designation, property held in joint tenancy with right of survivorship, or real property conveyed through a transfer on death deed.
Ruth A. Harper
I'm a Pacific Northwest attorney, and my focus is on estate planning and elder law. My interest in these fields grew out of my experience with aging relatives and family members with special needs.
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