Is my estate plan current? What questions should I ask? - Dennis B. Dahlberg
Facing our own mortality can be difficult for many people. However, if you wait too long to have these discussions and reflect upon your current estate plan, or lack thereof, your choices will become increasingly limited as your life changes its course. If your estate plan is not current you could potentially lose control of your legacy, assets, and those things that are most important to you. A good estate plan is like a mirror: it should reflect your values and relationships in their highest, best, and most current form.
In recent years, millions of Americans have experienced dramatic changes in their financial assets, living arrangements, and other life circumstances. Are you one of them?
Simple changes in your life can have a significant impact on your estate plan. Have there been marriages, births, or divorces in your family? Have you moved? Have you purchased or sold property? Has someone in your life passed away? Has your health changed?
There are also some difficult questions that you should also reflect upon. If you health has condition has change to involve serious or chronic health issues, does your estate plan, in combination with your financial resources, adequately reflect your future needs? With the skyrocketing costs associated with health care and institutional care in America, even those who have diligently saved over the years can quickly face impoverishment due to their care needs. Does your estate plan adequately reflect your current and future needs, and does your estate plan take advantage of the laws and services that exist which can assist you?
If you have children, have you appropriately made provisions in your plan if you should pass away? For example, who will raise your children, do you have a trust in place for their health, maintenance, education, and support? Waiting until your children are grown to discuss your estate planning could leave them in a position that you might otherwise not have intended – unless, of course, you would prefer to have a judge, as an impartial decision maker, decide what happens to your children and estate if you should predecease them.
Do you have pets? For many Americans their pets are akin to their children. Have you made any decisions as to whom will care for your pets if you should pass away and do you have sufficient funds set aside for their care? At times a pet trust might be an appropriate planning mechanism for you to utilize, especially if you have pets whom have long life expectancies.
Have your feeling on death changed over the years? Have you previously signed a Health Care Power of Attorney and a Living Will, and are these documents up to date? One only needs to reflect upon the Florida case involving Terry Schiavo, which involved a legal stuggle over end-of-life care, from 1990 to 2005, to understand the importance of having current health care directives in place to guide your family and physicians. Each person has a definitive idea as to what his or her expectations are relative to his or her quality of life. If you have not yet put these estate planning mechanisms in place, and shared your wishes with your family, when will you?
If you are married, did you sign a prenuptial, antenuptial, or postnuptial agreement? Many Americans utilize these documents to protect themselves at the beginning of their marriages and later forget that these documents were ever signed. If you any of these documents in place, it is important that you speak with your estate planning attorney as to their implications to your overall estate plan.
Do you risk losing control of your legacy? Can you still recognize what you want your legacy to be within your current estate plan? Take the time to reflect on these questions and then contact a qualified estate planning attorney to either make the appropriate changes or begin the process of planning for your future and controlling your legacy. Please contact our office if you would like to set up a free consultation to discuss your options.
- Dennis B. Dahlberg, Esq.