Five Key Times to Evaluate Your Estate Plan

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Life can change daily. Sometimes our focus on what is immediately in front of us is all we can see. Thus overlooking how life changes affect our estate plan is easy. As this new year begins, let's take a look again at five key times to evaluate your estate plan.

Evaluate your estate plan if you have no estate plan.

For those who have never developed an estate plan, you should. Almost everyone needs to do some sort of planning, even if that planning involves meeting with an attorney only to develop your healthcare documents and understand what happens if you don’t have a will. Florida law states what happens to your belongings if you die without a will, so someone (i.e., the Florida legislature) has decided. But this is usually much more complicated for those you leave behind.

Evaluate your estate plan when you get married.

If you already have a will before you marry, Florida law tries to help, perhaps assuming you were so caught up in newlywed bliss that you just forgot to update your will. By state law, even if the new spouse is never mentioned in the will signed before the marriage, the new spouse will inherit something. This might be what you want. Or it might not. Often, though, the one-size-fits-all-guess by the legislature does not take into account your personal situation, especially if children are involved.

Evaluate your estate plan when you have children.

Having children no doubt brings about great change in one’s life. One of those changes is what happens (by state law) to your property when you die. And again, even if you had a will before your child was born, Florida law tries to step in and include that child in your estate plan. But again, this could lead to confusion and difficulties, especially when you have children with different needs or different parents. Also important is the issue of who will manage any inheritance your minor child receives. If you want a say in that decision, you need to develop your own estate plan. So between the midnight feedings and changing diapers and reveling in this new bundle of joy, set aside a little time to protect that precious nugget’s future. (Indeed, “nugget” is a term of endearment used in my family for the wee ones.)

Evaluate your estate plan when your children enter adulthood.

So you had a will, and you updated things after you married, and you did so again after you had children. So far, so good. But once those children become adults, life again changes. As you’ve watched this child grow and mature, perhaps you’ve made different decisions about protecting the child’s inheritance to make sure it is available for college or to help with a new home. Or you want to be sure any inheritance is kept away from a bad debt decision or from a less-than-stellar choice for a (short-term) spouse. As your children become adults, it is good to again evaluate your plan and make sure you are protecting their future.

Evaluate your estate plan if you divorce.

Life changes in other ways than just adding to your family; sometimes our families become smaller and marriages end. Florida law steps in again (unless the will says otherwise). In this situation, if you have a will and your ex is in it, if you die before updating your will, the law acts like your ex died first. Thus, the ex gets nothing. (Nothing from your will; all divorcing spouses should consult with a family law attorney for what happens during the divorce proceedings.) This might suit you well, but this can create more of a mess than you wanted. By updating your estate plan, you can be more certain your actual wishes are in place.

There are many good reasons to sit down and evaluate your estate plan. These are only five of them. Whether you're just getting started, experiencing one of those life events, or going through some other changes in life, an estate-planning attorney can help you sort through it all.

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