Like watching the flag system at the beach to tell us of dangers or warnings of which we should be aware, it makes sense to understand the "red flags" that we see when facing various legal issues in our lives. In today's post, I'll highlight some of the red flags that pop up from time to time in estate planning scenarios. Understand that this is not a complete list, but I'll highlight some of the more common issues.
First, probably the brightest red flag waves for those who have have failed to do any estate planning. Even if you don't have significant assets, planning is important. And, if you have minor aged children, planning is critical so that you can ensure that the appropriate folks will care for your children and manage your assets for their behalf should both parents decease. In addition to a will, other basic estate planning documents here in Georgia typically include an advance directive for health care and a durable power of attorney. More complicated options are available, but may not always be appropriate for your situation.
Next, be aware that once you do your planning, you're not done. You need to review your documents from time to time (I recommend at least once a year) to make sure that your wishes have not changed, and that the documents adequately represent your intentions and are sufficient to fulfill your plan. Along those lines, you should be aware of these red flags:
* Your asset level has changed significantly. Be aware as to whether that has moved your estate into a taxable situation where further planning might be needed. Understand that tax laws change, and that what might work for you today, might not be adequate the next year.
*Your marital status has changed. If you married, or divorced, your will likely needs to be changed. In fact, if you got married and your will did not state that it was made in contemplation of such, your will may very well be invalid under the law.
*You've had a child, or additional children whether by birth or adoption, and they are not included in your will. If your will did not state that it was made in contemplation of such, your will may very well be invalid under the law.
*You've made marks or changes on your will after you executed it, changing certain provisions or people, etc. Those acts may have resulted in your revoking the will rendering it invalid.
*Your choices for important roles, such as guardians, trustees, and executors, have changed.
*You opted to save some money on your will and did it yourself without a lawyer. Your will maybe perfectly fine, but it may not be. And, your will may not have been executed properly. You might wish to consider having a lawyer review your will or prepare another one for you.
*You have set up a revocable living trust (or some other trust) believing that it is the cure for all of your estate plan concerns, but have not done anything with it, have not transferred assets to it, and have not looked at it for years. Without property being placed in the trust, its value is pretty slim. You might wish to consult a lawyer.
There are other red flags to be wary of, I'm sure, but this list is a good starting point. If you have concerns or questions about the validity of your current documents, or have questions about where to begin your estate planning, consult an experienced attorney today.