We’ve been focused on Covid for so long that a lot of things have taken a back seat. We’re still regrouping, trying to find the new normal. Estate planning is one of the things that’s easy to forget in this new normal. Why not? You did the estate planning, you listed your wishes, and you put the document in a safe place to be pulled out when the inevitable happens.
But if there’s one thing Covid taught us—the unexpected can happen and things change. That’s why now is a great time to pull your plan out of the dusty archives and review it. Have there been significant life changes such as marriage, divorce, new kids, or grandkids? Have you moved? Have estate laws changed? Do you want your assets distributed differently than when you created the estate plan? Do you need to change beneficiaries or trustees? Reviewing your estate plan should happen regularly. Covid has given us a perfect reason to review it now. Here are some things to consider.
General Power of Attorney (GPOA)
Is the person you designated as general power of attorney still the person you want to handle your personal, financial, legal, and business decisions if you become incapacitated? If not, make the change to your new GPOA. Be sure you revoke the appointment in writing and notify everyone involved.
Healthcare Power of Attorney (HCPOA)
Who did you designate to make healthcare decisions for you if you can’t? Is that still the person you want acting on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Also, review your living will or healthcare directive, and make clear your wishes about Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) provisions.
Last Will and Testament
As you review your estate plan, decide if the current provisions for asset distribution are the way you want them. Are your wishes for handling your digital assets still appropriate? Do you still believe the people listed as your executor, agents, or guardian for minor children are the right ones?
If you have a revocable living trust, check your trustee and successor appointments. What about the plans you made for estate and inheritance tax liabilities? While the current federal estate tax exemption is high and your estate may not receive a tax bill, some states have their own estate or inheritance tax regulations that kick in at much lower levels.
Have You Moved
Estate laws vary from state to state. If you’ve moved to a new state, there may be different rules for marital property, executors, and powers of attorney. You’ll want to find out what the rules are in your new state of residence and update your estate plan.
Even if you haven’t moved, state legislatures change estate laws occasionally. As part of your review, see if any laws have changed since you established your estate plan and, if so, how those changes affect how you want your estate handled. For example, when the SECURE Act went into effect in January 2020, the stretch IRA was eliminated. It substantially elevated the amount of taxes to be paid on inherited IRAs and required all the money be withdrawn within 10 years, rather than the old system of stretching withdrawals out over a person’s lifetime. That change may make a difference in how you want your estate plan to handle distribution of your IRAs or who you want named as beneficiaries.
Another significant part of an estate plan can be gifting. If gifting laws have changed, does it affect the bequests currently in your plan, or do those need to be updated?
Estate planning is not a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. Review your plan regularly. Make the changes necessary to keep your plan current. Sure, you won’t be around to see the results of your plan, but keeping it updated can make a world of difference for those you leave behind.