It is important to periodically review and update your estate plan

Each year, as we approach New Year's Eve and the First Night Boston festivities, many of us will make New Year's resolutions. Some resolutions we keep and some we do not. One resolution that you might consider is to review your estate plan to make sure that your current intentions as to the disposition of your assets will be carried out. As stated in a recent article published in Lifescapes magazine, keeping your estate plan up-to-date is critical to ensure that your plan "captures your current wishes and future goals for yourself and your beneficiaries."

The failure to update estate plans is a mistake common to both those of modest means and those who are quite wealthy. According to Insurance News Net Magazine, two well-known Hollywood stars, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Walker, made the mistake of not having updated their estate plans prior to their deaths. Hoffman's estate plan failed to account for all of his children. Walker, one of the stars of the "Fast and Furious" movies, had an estate plan in effect since the time he was 28 years old. However, in the 12 years prior to his tragic death, he failed to update that estate plan. As a result, it is possible that the plan did not reflect Walker's actual wishes at the time of his untimely demise.

Life is never static. Things change over time. People get married or divorced, have grandchildren, or deal with the death or incapacity of a spouse or child. Some of us are fortunate enough to inherit substantial assets or even win the Massachusetts State Lottery after we have already implemented an estate plan. Changes like these can have an effect on your estate plan. In addition, there are periodic federal or state changes to the tax laws which may have an impact on an estate plan.

According to Forbes magazine, one of the most frequently overlooked items on every estate planning checklist is a thorough review of beneficiary designations on insurance policies, IRAs, and company pension plans. In a worst case scenario, assets can pass to the wrong people due to old out-of-date beneficiary designations. Consumer Reports advises that you should review and update life insurance policies and investment accounts every few years or immediately following a marriage, divorce or the death of a loved one.

Reviewing your will

The Nature Conservancy offers the following useful tips for updating your estate plan:

  • Periodically take stock of your assets and give consideration to any new investments, real estate or personal property acquired after your original estate plan was executed.
  • Decide if you have any changes to make in your estate plan with regard to the disposition of your current assets.
  • Re-examine your beneficiaries and determine who you now wish to leave your property to.
  • If you chose to leave part or all of your estate or assets to charity, make sure you have the correct language in your will reflecting your intent.
  • Make sure someone knows where your most current will or trust is located.
  • Destroy invalid wills or trusts as directed by your attorney.

Seek legal help

If you have never updated your estate plan, you should call a Massachusetts attorney who handles estate planning matters. The attorney will be glad to review your estate plan and, if necessary, offer you advice on how it can be modified in order to accurately reflect your current desires as to the disposition of your estate after you pass.