Financial spring cleaning is a time to organize the paperwork and accounts we need and want to keep while getting rid of those that are no longer of use or appropriate for our current financial situation. In undertaking financial and estate spring cleaning, there are a few matters worth exploring.
Review investment accounts and consider whether there has been a change in your risk/return parameters. This examination is all about determining whether there has been a change in your financial picture. Considerations might be…Are you within five years of retirement? Has your income increased/decreased measurably? Has there been a change in your or a family member’s health?
If there has been a change in the underlying factors of your financial picture, it would be worth examining your investment portfolio to ensure that the investment strategy remains appropriate given the change in circumstances.
There are many types of insurance – from homeowners to renters insurance, disability and long-term care insurance - and that does not include all types of life insurance options. Insurance is a risk management tool, so as your financial picture changes you may need to evaluate any insurance holdings. Each year, it is worth meeting with your insurance agent(s) to review your coverage to ensure you are properly protected.
Making sure your estate documents are in order is important. If you haven’t worked with an attorney to set these up, there is no better time than right now. And, if you have already created these important documents, it is a good idea to review them each year. Life changes such as marriage, divorce, new children and grandchildren might require a change to your estate documents.
Sometimes the idea and effort to get these documents established can feel overwhelming. It isn’t so much the time it takes for the attorney to craft the documents, it’s more about taking that “first” step. It is easy to keep busy with our daily lives. And it’s easy to justify our actions with thoughts like, “we won’t need these documents anytime soon.” But, it is prudent for you and your family to take the essential first step to solidify any necessary estate documents.
Once the documents are in place, a quick review each spring for any needed changes doesn’t take long at all. You never know when you or your family might benefit from estate planning, but, when you do, you and your family will appreciate the fact that an estate plan is in place.
A few legal documents to consider for your estate plan are explored below. You and your legal counsel might consider these as well as other legal documents.
A “will” or “testament” is a legal document by which a person, the testator, expresses their wishes as to how their property is to be distributed at death, and names one or more persons as executor to manage the estate until final distribution.
Having a will is one of the most important steps you can take to help yourself and your family. Not only can a will protect your spouse, children and assets, it can also spell out exactly how you would like things handled after you have passed.
Revocable Living Trusts
A revocable living trust is a written legal document through which your assets are placed into a trust for your benefit during your lifetime. Upon your death, the revocable living trust’s assets are transferred to designated beneficiaries.
One benefit of a living trust is that it avoids probate. Probate is the legal proceeding through which your assets are distributed according to your wishes detailed in the will.
With assets passed via will, your estate will go through probate. A living trust, on the other hand, does not go through probate, which often means a faster distribution of assets to your heirs.
The second benefit of a living trust is that the living trust details remain private. Upon your death, your estate will be distributed in private. However, a will is public record so all transactions will be public as well.
Powers of Attorney
A power of attorney is a legal document that gives someone of your choosing the power to act on your behalf.
If a power of attorney is durable, it remains valid and in effect even if you become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for yourself.
A limited power of attorney allows a person to designate someone else to take care of specific financial activities on his or her behalf.
A health care power of attorney is a document in which you designate someone to be your representative or agent in the event you are unable to make or communicate decision about all aspects of your healthcare.
Typically, powers of attorney can be revoked by you at any time.
Special attention should be given to caring for minors or those with special needs. Children and the elderly may need help when making legal decisions. A “guardian” is someone chosen or appointed to make legal decisions for another person who is unable to make those decisions on their own. Guardianship can be stated in a legal document for the benefit of a child or on behalf of an individual who has become incapacitated through age or disability.
It is worth noting that this is not a complete list of necessary estate documents. If you have substantial wealth or a more complicated estate, consideration of other legal structures is in order. More advanced planning is not within the scope of this blog post.
As you can see, the considerations for each of the legal documents detailed above can change over time. As a result, it is a great idea to review them annually as part of your spring-cleaning routine.
By meeting with your legal and financial team regularly, you and your team can determine the legal and estate planning structure that is best for you and your family. Reviewing your investment portfolio, insurance needs and estate documents, at least on a yearly basis, is a reliable strategy to get and keep your financial house in order.