Scheduled Maintenance: Estate Planning Check Up

Kelly Brakefield Moore, Attorney

You take your car in for scheduled maintenance. You check your smoke alarms once a year. You go to the doctor for your yearly check-up. Do you ever think about checking up on your estate planning documents? Below you will find a few reasons why checking on your estate plan is important to maintain a healthy estate planning regime.

  • First and foremost, locate your estate planning documents. Make sure you know where the ORIGINALS are. If you have completed your estate plan with us, they may be in a black notebook or in a red Estate Planning Portfolio. You may find that you have documents located in several places: the safe, the attorney’s office, or perhaps the file cabinet. You may also find that you only have copies of your documents or blank signature lines on certain documents. If so, make a call to ask about the originals. Having the originals makes estate administration easier and more efficient.
  • We suggest that all of your documents stay in a central location. A notebook is a great way to organize and store your documents.
  • Choose the same time each year to think about your estate plan. For many people, this falls around a birthday or during the slower times of their work schedule. It’s ok if you have to schedule an annual self-check on your calendar. If you write it down, it’s more likely to happen!
  • Ask yourself if you really understand your estate plan. If you read your document, does it say what you think it should say, or can you make sense of it? If we’ve recently helped with your plan, you may have a diagram for a quick reference. If you can’t understand your plan or if it doesn’t say what you thought it should say, further maintenance is needed. Call for a check-up.
  • Many people have a list, balance sheet or a spreadsheet of their assets. You may have an asset listing developed at one of our estate planning meetings. Try to update this each year. It’s good to list the owner of the asset, the approximate value of the asset, the beneficiary of the asset, and any contact information associated with the company or financial planner. Tax season is a great time to make this happen.
  • Have you updated your documents in the last decade or so? Like everything else, we are constantly developing new and better strategies and techniques in estate planning. Also, changes in the law may provide opportunities or necessitate changes to your plan. It’s time to update your documents if you can say yes to any of the following:
    • Your children are grown but they were 2 and 5 when your Will was done.
    • You’ve gotten married or divorced or had more children.
    • Your documents were executed in a different state and you’ve since moved to Ohio.
    • You have had a power of attorney, executor, or trustee pass away.
    • You’ve inherited a significant amount of assets since the last update.
    • You’ve started a new business, changed business structures or retired.
    • Wright & Moore executed your documents and they are stored in a black notebook. This tells me that it’s been at least 6-8 years since the last update, and it’s time for another.
    • Your documents are typed. (by a typewriter!)
  • Even if you have diligently updated your documents within the last 5 or so years, there have been changes in Ohio statutory law pertaining to the Financial Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will. Look to see if your documents were executed prior to the following dates:
    • General (Financial) Power of Attorney March 2012
    • Health Care Power of Attorney September 2009
    • Living Will September 2009
  • Also, even though you may have had your documents created and updated by an estate planning attorney recently, look for the following “red flags”:
    • You have more than one Power of Attorney document. This can create considerable confusion.
    • Your trust plans involves a generation skipping trust and you never intended the assets to skip the next generation.
    • You have multiple types of deeds executed at the same time for the same property. For example: Deed 1- Property A has a life estate for Bill, remainder to Sally; Deed 2- Property A transfers the property from Bill to Bill’s Trust.
    • You have an estate plan which includes warnings and statements such as “contact us immediately if you go in the nursing home.”

It’s very important to know not only where your documents are but what your documents say. Unfortunately, we have seen trust plans come into our office that do not achieve the intended purpose. Unfortunately, often times it’s too late to change the plans because the person is deceased. It could be because the client didn’t update their documents as he/she should have, but it could also be that the attorney did not write the plan as the client intended.

As you can see there are many reasons to schedule a check-up. This is your well-meaning lawyer telling you its time!

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