Ah – the New Year… a fresh start and opportunity to make some goals and check some things off your “I’m really doing it this year” list. While estate planning may not be as common as joining a gym or as glamorous as planning a bucket list trip, it is, nonetheless, incredibly important.
No matter where you are in life, there’s no doubt you should have an estate plan AND should be actively aware of its contents. Whether you’re just starting out in your career or are retired and enjoying your golden years, this checklist applies to ALL of us.
Review your estate plan
Laws, families, and life circumstances constantly change. An estate plan created 15 years ago may not suit your needs as well now as it did back then. Has your wealth changed? Have your children grown? Tax and estate laws have seen vast changes in the last seven years. If you haven’t looked at your estate plan in the last couple of years, it’s time.
If you don’t have one, get one
The word “estate” often leads people to think since they don’t have a mansion sitting on acres of land, they don’t need a trust. But in the state of California, if you own more than $150,000 worth of assets not transferable on death (such as a house!), your heirs will be forced to go through probate, which is both expensive and time consuming. Furthermore, not having a power of attorney or advanced health care directive in place can prevent your loved ones from assisting or even accessing you in the event you cannot act on your own behalf.
Make sure your trust is funded
Just having a trust doesn’t protect your assets or heirs. The trust must be funded with assets being titled in the trust. Too often, we find ourselves bearing the bad news to family members that despite having a trust, the court must get involved because an asset was not held in the trust.
Tell your family about your estate plan
Letting your loved ones know what your wishes are or where important documents are kept (including your estate plan) is as important as having them. Both you and your family will have peace of mind knowing that in the event something happens, there will be no question about how to proceed.
Best wishes for a Happy New Year! We look forward to assisting you and answering any of your estate planning questions.
Holly Ratzlaff is an attorney and partner at Voorhees & Ratzlaff Law Group, LLP