Janssen Law, PLC

Keeping your estate plan fresh and relevant

If you made an estate plan, chances are that your goals were to eliminate any confusion after you pass away and to provide your loved ones with as little stress as possible in claiming their inheritance. Whether you wrote a will or established a trust, your plan is a sign of your generous concern for the well-being of your family.

Like many in Iowa who have created an estate plan, you may not realize the importance of periodically revisiting your plan. In fact, depending on the significance of the life changes you have experienced since you executed your will, your plan may quickly become outdated and useless.

Protecting your hard-earned assets

Your retirement accounts, pensions and deferred compensation may have beneficiary designations that supersede your will. It is important to check your designations frequently, some say annually, to ensure the people named are still living and that the human resources department has accurately completed the beneficiary information. You may also wish to include contingent beneficiaries in case the primary beneficiary is no longer living when the funds are distributed.

Inaccurate beneficiary designations can also be troublesome for your IRA. IRAs are among those accounts that pass directly to their beneficiaries. In other words, your will does not cover your IRA, so you want to be sure you have the correct designations on your accounts. Also, make sure that your bank accounts, insurance policies, annuities and property titles have the same form of your name. If some contain your middle name, a "Junior," or a nickname and others do not, these inconsistencies may delay the distribution of your assets.

When to revise your plan

Your attorney should know when you go through major changes in your life. Touching base with your lawyer once a year to review your estate plan will give you the chance to learn about new options and revise any documents you have in place. However, you may need a more immediate meeting with your attorney following any of these events:

  • Death of a spouse or other beneficiary
  • Divorce or remarriage
  • Purchase or sale of a business
  • Birth of child, especially one with special needs
  • Retirement or change of income
  • Dramatic changes in your health
  • Purchase or sale of property or move to a different state
  • Decisions to add charitable contributions to your estate plan

When these changes occur, they could have a significant impact in your plans, and periodically revisiting your documents will allow you to maintain a plan that accurately reflects you wishes. You will also want to consider the designation of financial and health care powers of attorney to your plan. These people can act in your name if you should become incapacitated, saving your family the stress and heartache of seeking a court order for your care.

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