I recently gave a talk on estate planning. Like at all the talks I give I always leave plenty of time to answer questions. One of the questions I got was sort of off the wall, but it does bring up an interesting point. The gentleman told me that his son was in the process of undergoing procedures to become a woman. His first questions dealt with whether he had to change his will and trust because in his trust he refers to “my sons.” He also wanted to know if the son that was going through the sex change operation would be considered his son for purposes of his trust or should he amend the trust. I told him that the law in this area is unclear, but that his best course of action would be to amend his trust so there would be no issue. The bigger question is, when should you amend your will and trust?
I believe that at a minimum of every couple of years, you ought to review your estate plan. That doesn’t mean you need to make any changes, but you should review your documents to make sure that it reflects your current thoughts. Family dynamics change and as a result you may need to make an adjustment to your estate plan. In addition, it pays to review your estate plan when you’ve had a change in family circumstances. Whether it is a birth of a new grandchild, a divorce or even a death of a loved one, it may mean you need to change or amend your estate plan.
Don’t forget when I talk about changing or amending an estate plan, what that also means in that you should review your beneficiary designations. You have beneficiaries on things like your IRAs, life insurance policies and even on 401(k) Plans. It is also important that you review those beneficiary designations to make sure they’re still current. Not only should you always have a primary beneficiary, but you should also have a secondary beneficiary.
As I’ve said many times in the past, the main reason you do estate planning is because you love your loved ones. You want to make sure that when you are no longer here or when there is a family emergency, your family can handle things as easily as possible. Having an up-to-date estate plan can accomplish this goal. However, having an estate plan that is not current and out of date can, in fact, cause the family all sorts of aggravation. Therefore, if you haven’t reviewed your estate plan in a while, there’s no time like the present to make sure it still reflects what you want.
One last note, people think doing an estate plan is very expensive. Although there are certain types of estate planning that can get expensive, for the great majority of people who use the assistance of an estate planning attorney, the costs should be reasonable and affordable.