Many Californians procrastinate when it comes to establishing an estate plan, even though most rate it high on their essential to-do list. And while those who have accomplished that task should rightfully feel good, it also should be realized it is not a one and done situation. An estate plan should be regularly reviewed and changes made where appropriate to ensure the plan continues to fulfill all that it is intended to do.
The primary reason review and potential updates are required is quite simple; things change. Financial advisors point out the largest potential change that can occur outside the family dynamic is a change in tax laws. For instance, a seminal issue is how much money passes free and clear under the unified federal and gift tax exemption. The current amount allows most Americans to avoid a federal estate tax but is also considered a very hot political topic among the competing interests in Congress, and as such, it is subject to change on a yearly basis.
Most other changes occur on a more personal level. A marriage, divorce or birth of a child are undoubtedly occasions that call for a thorough estate plan review. Also, it is important to remember that beneficiary designations on such things as bank, investment and retirement accounts need to reflect the current wishes of the owner and that these supersede any designation of the same asset in a contrary manner in a will or trust. Also, real property can be held in joint tenancy with right of survivorship (JTWROS) which allows the property to immediately, as a matter of law, pass to the survivor after the death of the first titleholder.
Life has a way of passing quickly and there are no guarantees. An experienced estate planning lawyer can be instrumental in drafting or updating an estate plan.