After surviving this past winter’s polar vortex, it is hard to believe that summer is flying by and that vacation season is in full swing. Summer vacation, or any trip, is a great opportunity to relax and recharge by spending time with family or friends. As attorneys, we often find that an upcoming trip also prompts people to take care of those estate planning updates that they have been putting off. Allow yourself to fully relax on your upcoming trip by first ensuring that your estate planning is in proper order.
Use our tips below as a guideline, and you will soon find yourself with your toes in the sand, completely relaxed and confident in knowing that your estate planning affairs are in order.
1. Check Your Beneficiary Designations
Certain assets, like your retirement accounts, brokerage accounts and life insurance, likely have one or more beneficiaries designated. This means that these assets will pass directly to your designated beneficiary and not pursuant to the terms of your Will or trust. Ensure that all of your beneficiaries are on file with your employer, broker or insurer and keep copies of those designations. Also ensure that your beneficiary designations are up to date. If you have had a life event recently (a spouse pass away, a divorce, the birth of a child etc.), you will need to update your primary, or in some cases, secondary beneficiary designations. Do you want to name your spouse and/or children as direct beneficiaries, or is it better to name the trust you have created for their benefit as the beneficiary of these assets? These are all decisions that you want to consider, and your Dinsmore attorney is happy to help talk through some of these options with you.. Confirming that your beneficiaries are up to date will ensure that you avoid probate on these assets and that they are passing in line with your overall estate plan.
2. Disability Documents: Are They Up To Date and Accessible?
Your financial power of attorney and health care documents are essential to allow another to act on your behalf for financial and health care matters if you are unable to act for yourself. These important documents do not govern after your death, but are for use during your life. Before your next vacation adventure, be sure that these documents are up to date and that your financial and health care agents know where to locate your disability documents if necessary. You may choose to give your agents copies of your documents or simply choose to give them your Dinsmore attorney’s contact information. Bottom line: be sure your agents know how to access your documents in an emergency and be sure to discuss your wishes with your agents. If you would like to make any changes to the persons that you have nominated, please contact your Dinsmore attorney in advance of your trip.
3. Review Your Will and Trust
In general, we suggest that you review your estate planning documents every three to five years to ensure that everything is according to your wishes. However, preparing for a big trip is the perfect time to pull out your existing estate planning documents and make sure that your executors, trustees and guardians are all still who you wish for them to be. In addition, make sure that the provisions for your family still comply with your wishes. If it has been many years since you completed your documents, there have likely been changes in both your life and the tax law since that time. Your Dinsmore attorney can work with you to make any necessary changes so that all of your documents are up to date before you set off on your next excursion.
4. Grandparent/Caregiver Power of Attorney
Are you lucky enough to be escaping for a get away with your significant other and leaving your minor children at home with a parent or other caregiver? You may want to think about signing a power of attorney authorizing your caregiver to make medical and other decisions for your minor child in your absence. This document can be drafted inexpensively and helps provide additional peace of mind that everything is taken of at home while you relax and enjoy your trip.
On the flip side, you may be watching your grandchildren. If this is the case, you may want to urge your children to sign a power of attorney giving you the authority you may need while they are gone. Hopefully no trips to urgent care will occur on your watch, but it is better to be prepared and be able to make medical decisions if necessary.
5. List of Assets, Passwords and Advisors
Ideally, you should leave a list of assets, passwords and advisor contact information with your important estate planning papers. Dinsmore is happy to add a copy of such a list to your file as well. While compiling this list will take some effort on your part, it will save your loved ones countless hours after you are gone. In today’s world, some people have assets or other accounts which are strictly on-line. It is important to know what those assets are and the passwords associated with said assets or accounts. It is also important that your loved ones can easily locate a list of your trusted advisors (attorney, financial advisor, accountant, insurance agent etc.). These are the persons who can best provide assistance to your loved ones when the time comes. Having a concise list of assets that includes where they are located, passwords and advisors gives whoever administers your estate a great tool to work from.
These five tips obviously do not encompass every important aspect of your estate planning, but by keeping these items in mind, you will be in great shape to get out and enjoy yourself this summer before winter’s icy grip returns!