If you have an estate plan in place, congratulations! You have made an important step toward ensuring your final wishes are followed after you are gone. But how long has your estate plan been in place without you looking at it? It's time to dig out the paperwork and check the date.
Were your documents signed in the 1980s or 1990s--or even earlier? If that's the case, you should know that these documents are woefully out-of-date, and it's time to contact an estate planning attorney to update them as soon as possible.
Even if you signed the documents between 2000 and 2009, you still need a checkup. Aside from the federal estate tax exemption jumping from $675,000 to $3,500,000 during that time period, state estate taxes disappeared in many states. Because of the significant changes in federal and state estate taxes, documents from this time period may be out of date and need to be tweaked in some shape or form.
And if your documents are as recent as between 2010 and 2017, federal estate taxes, gift taxes, and generation-skipping transfer taxes went through major changes during these years, and “portability” of the federal estate tax exemption between married couples was introduced. Estate plans that are just a few years old very likely do not take advantage of the opportunities made available from recent changes in federal tax laws. There are other changes your estate plan should reflect as well, including modifications to state laws governing wills, trusts, health care directives, and powers of attorney.
Finally, regardless of what year you signed your estate planning documents, think about all of the changes in your life since you signed them. Did you get married or divorced, have a child or a grandchild or two, or move to a new state? Did you sell your business, retire, have a significant change in assets, or win the lottery? Any major changes in your family or financial situation will certainly impact your estate plan.
What If I Don't Have an Estate Plan?
A common misconception is that estate planning is only necessary for wealthy people. Nothing could be further than the truth. Anyone with a bank or retirement account, a home, or a family needs to make a plan for what happens if they become incapacitated or when they die--regardless of their level of wealth or their age. Of course, the complexity of the plan will vary depending on your circumstances, but all estate plans should be put together with the help of an attorney who is experienced with the legal formalities required to create a valid will, trust, health care directive, and power of attorney in your state.
If you don't already have an estate plan, then getting one in place should be a priority. Without an estate plan, you and your property could end up in a court-supervised guardianship if you become incapacitated, and your property and your loved ones could end up in time-consuming, costly probate proceedings after you die.
Worse yet, if you don't take the time to have any estate planning done, then the state will essentially write one for you. It most likely won't divvy up your property the way you would have and certainly will not protect your heirs the way you would have.
Estate Planning in New York Is Not a One-and-Done Deal
Estate planning is not a static event that you can take care of once and then forget about it. Estate planning is a continuing process, because life is a moving target that is full of constant change: Your estate plan needs to change as your life changes.
The Browne Firm is here to help you navigate the changes that have occurred since you had your estate plan prepared. And if you don't already have an estate plan, there is no time like the present to start preparing yours. Give us a call at 914-530-3070 today!