When asked by someone without an estate plan when they should plan their estate, we tend to give a variation of the answer, “Right away.” But updating your estate plan is a little more complex. There are major life events that are critical times to update your estate plan and make any necessary adjustments.
Congratulations! But before you tie the knot, you’ll likely want to ensure your intended spouse will be a part of your estate plan. Spouses are often beneficiaries of wills and life insurance, and may be listed on titles to shared investments or homes. For this reason, it is particularly important to update your plan if this isn’t your first wedding. You don’t want things going to your ex that are more appropriate for your current spouse. Even for first marriages, your spouse may not be fully protected or presumed to be an heir if the plan omits them.
Kids, accompanied by marriage or not, really do change everything. One massive reason children can affect estate planning is because this documentation lets you dictate guardianship: who gets your children if you and the co-parent both pass away. It’s a situation nobody wants to be in, but one to plan for. Otherwise, the judgment call could be left up to the state. States also have different laws about whether “natural children” are heirs. Keeping your plan current is critical if you want to retain control.
Your children turning 18 also matters. As adults, they can directly inherit assets, and your plan should evolve accordingly.
Removing an ex from estate planning documents is one of many legal considerations during a divorce. All changes in marital status, including a spouse’s death, should at least be cause for reviewing if not amending your estate plan. The detail to focus on is where a former spouse may be a beneficiary, and skilled estate planning attorneys can also inform you of other concerns for your unique situation.
This includes investment properties, and one major reason why estate planning for real estate investors is approached differently. Those with investment properties may consider the living trust and pour-over will, which an attorney can craft to ensure the seamless transition of assets without the need for probate court. A new home of any kind can drive up your estate’s value, but fortunately asset protection strategies including titling property to a land trust may help prevent this and other potential legal issues surrounding titling.
Whether you started or purchased the business, understand it’s also an asset. You’ll need to decide who owns the business, and a succession plan is wise for particularly successful and profitable businesses. If you want to make the decisions around your legacy without incurring unnecessary probate court fees, updating your estate plan is the vital.
Scott Royal Smith is an asset protection attorney and long-time real estate investor. He's on a mission to help fellow investors free their time, protect their assets, and create lasting wealth.
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