Far too often in my practice, when I’m visiting with a new client, I find myself wishing they had come to me a few months or even a few years earlier. Sometimes, it’s because someone in their family has died without a will and they need help with unexpected, usually a complicated probate process. That said, I also meet a lot of people who are having issues because, while the family member who passed away has a will or trust, it was so long ago that it almost doesn’t do any good.
As we go through different stages in our lives, the circumstances change. People’s families grow, careers change, they make a lot of money, and occasionally they move. And yet, too many people who get a will when they start a family never get around to updating it, or adding a trust if the situation calls for it.
In general, it’s a good idea to contact your estate planning attorney once every year or so to review what’s going on in your life and make sure your estate planning is still addressing your family’s needs. Additionally, there are a few life events that should trigger a consultation because there’s a very good chance your documents will need to be updated:
You move to a new state. In Florida, for example, people move here from other parts of the country all the time. By Florida law, a will is valid in Florida as long as it is also valid in the state where it was written. However, there are a few exceptions. That’s why it’s a good idea to have your estate planning documents reviewed by an attorney licensed to practice in the state where you have relocated.
You have a baby (or adopt one). What would happen to your child, or children, if you and your spouse died suddenly? Who would take care of them until they become an adult? And what about your assets? An estate planning attorney can guide you through answering these questions and getting your decisions properly documented in a will or trust.
You get married or divorced. When someone who is married dies unexpectedly, it’s true that all shared assets pass to the spouse … eventually. To make sure you keep the process out of probate – a costly and time-consuming ordeal – you should see an estate planning attorney to make sure all your documents are in order. This is also important should you both pass away at the same time, such as in an auto accident.
Your spouse passes away. Similarly, if a spouse passes away, you will need to update your will and/or estate planning documents to make sure they reflect your new circumstances. As a widow or widower, you will need to make some decisions about who your assets would go to if you die. Additionally, you can determine in advance who will take care of your minor children upon your passing.
You start a business. When you start a business, the company you form becomes an asset that has value, and you should have a plan in place to determine who will own and who will run the business. If you have employees, the continued success of your company after you’re gone has a major impact on their lives, as well as how it affects your family.
You receive a terminal medical diagnosis. Clearly, if you are told that you don’t have long to live and you have no estate plan, or one that’s outdated, it’s important to speak to an estate planning attorney as quickly as possible. After all, this is not a time you want to be worried about material things, so get it resolved quickly.
Your assets grow substantially in value. For most people, the larger part of their assets is the equity they have in a home. If your planning assumes that you’ll only have, say, $25,000 in assets, you may have created a very simple plan. However, what happens if you start a business and it’s so successful that you start to accumulate substantially more wealth? Or, what if you inherit a large sum from a relative? That’s when many people, after they take care of their families, might leave a portion of the estate to a cause or charity that’s important to them. That kind of wealth simply makes more options available.
Your beneficiary, trustee or personal representative (executor) dies. These are all situations that will most likely send the estate to probate if your documents are not up to date. If the beneficiary – the person who will receive some or all of your assets – has died, the court will have to decide what to do with it. If the trustee of your trust has passed, the court will become the trustee until it can decide who to name in its place. And if your personal representative (which is called an executor in many states) is gone, the court will have to decide who will manage the distribution of assets according to your will. By keeping your estate out the court’s hands, the better and less costly it will be for your family.
While nobody enjoys thinking about what will happen after they die, it's the right thing to do for your surviving family. By making these decisions in advance about your assets and who they go to, as well as who will take care of your children, you can minimize the stress your family will go through at a time when they should be remembering you and celebrating your life.
If you have questions about these life events, or would like to talk to a qualified estate planning attorney, contact Nexus legal solutions at 407-900-7722 for a consultation.