5 Reasons to Update Your Estate Plan 

How long has it been since you last updated your estate plan? If it’s been more than a few years, it may not precisely reflect your situation today. A lot can happen over your lifetime, and you should ensure that your estate planning documents are as up to date as possible. At the Law Office of Kyle W. Jones, we generally recommend that our Bakersfield clients update their estate plan every three years or so, more often if they have experienced major life changes. 

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Having an accurate estate plan is the best way to safeguard your assets and protect your family. Here are five reasons to update your estate plan. 

1. You’ve Added New Members to Your Family

Perhaps you established your estate plan when you were young and single. Since then, you may have married and had children, even grandchildren. You should review your estate plan any time that you add a new family member so that there’s no question of how you would like your assets to be divided up when you pass away. Your Bakersfield lawyer will ensure these are clearly laid out in your estate planning documents, ensuring that your final wishes are met. 

2. You’ve Had a Divorce or Death in Your Family 

Over the years, you may experience the loss of a family member. This could be due to divorce or death. You wouldn’t want to leave behind your assets to the wrong person, nor would you want to leave your assets to someone who has already passed away. In the case of the latter, the courts could decide what happens to your property after you pass away. You can protect your assets by updating your estate plan regularly and removing anyone that it no longer applies to. 

3. Your Children Have Reached 18 Years of Age

Once your children are no longer minors, you should update your estate plan. You will no longer need to designate a guardian for them. Additionally, if you did not initially make them beneficiaries of your estate, you will need to alter other areas of your estate plan if you want your children to inherit additional assets after your death. This will ensure your assets are allocated the way you would want them to be. 

4. You’ve Gained or Sold Assets

Over time, you may buy property, or you may inherit it from a loved one. At a certain point, you may also decide to sell certain assets. Along the way, you should ensure that any property transactions are accurately reflected in your estate plan. For example, if you make a real estate investment, you may want to place it in a living trust. This way, you don’t have to worry about your loved ones having to undergo the probate process. The trust will indicate who is to receive the property upon your death. Since the probate process can be time-consuming and expensive, we often recommend having a living trust to secure your assets. This type of trust allows you to transfer assets into and out of the trust while you are still alive, making it a great choice to safeguard new assets. 

5. Your Medical Situation Has Changed 

As you grow older, you need to begin preparing for your end-of-life care. You may not have thought about setting up a living will when you were young, but this document can help ensure that your medical wishes are followed in the event you become incapacitated. If you experience an illness or injury that you’re not expected to fully recover from, a living will can detail your instructions for life-prolonging care, such as artificial nutrition and hydration, respiratory support, CPR, and other medical treatments. 

You should also establish a healthcare Power of Attorney, which will allow you to designate a trusted individual to make medical decisions for you. This document should be reviewed periodically to ensure the person who you have chosen is still able to act on your behalf. 

Why You Should Work With a Lawyer

While it is possible to find estate planning documents online, these are cookie-cutter templates that don’t factor in your unique situation. With a professional lawyer on your side, you will have access to extensive knowledge on estate planning, and they can provide you with informed recommendations to ensure that all of your financial and medical needs are covered. They will work with you one-on-one to draft an estate plan that you can feel confident about. 

What Are the Most Important Estate Planning Documents?

If you had a simple estate plan in the past–maybe just a will, for example–you may be wondering what other documents you need. 

Typically, a good estate plan will include: 

  • Will and/or Trust

 In a will, you will be able to designate how you would like your property to be divided among your family members. You can also identify a guardian or guardians for your minor children. However, if you have real estate property or other substantial assets, you may also want to have a trust. Assets will be transferred into the trust and then distributed by the named executor upon your death. Trusts are beneficial because, unlike with wills, you don’t have to go through the probate process to distribute your assets. In many cases, a trust will take precedence over a will. It’s recommended to review your trust each year to ensure everything, from the property to the beneficiaries to the person who you have selected as the executor trustee, is still accurate. 

  • Healthcare Directive

No one wants to be in the position where they have to decide at a moment’s notice what their family member would want regarding their end-of-life care. In your health care directive, you can detail the exact wishes that your medical team should follow, which will help give your family members peace of mind during a difficult time. 

  • Power of Attorneys

You can set up both a financial and a healthcare power of attorney. These documents will ensure that the right person is making decisions on your behalf when you are incapacitated. It’s also a good idea to designate a back-up power of attorney in case the first choice is unavailable. 

  • Beneficiary Designations

Retirement accounts, savings accounts, and life insurance policies likely have their own beneficiary designations apart from your trust. You should ensure that these are updated every time you update your plan. 

  • Paperwork

Be sure to include copies of any titles or deeds for property you own. This will help facilitate the transfer of ownership to beneficiaries upon your death. 

  • Letter of Intent

This unofficial document is where you might describe your plans for your funeral or wake. You might also use it to leave a last message to loved ones. While it’s not a legal document, many people choose to leave a letter with their other estate planning documents. 

Your Estate Planning Attorney 

Whatever stage you may be at in life, the Law Office of Kyle W. Jones is here to help you with comprehensive estate planning services. Whether you need to create an estate plan for the first time, or you need to have us review and update an existing estate plan, we will work hard to ensure that your documents meet your current and future needs. We take a meticulous approach to every case to ensure that nothing is overlooked. Contact our law firm today to set up a consultation with an estate planning attorney in Bakersfield. 

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