I finished my Estate Plan! Now what?
So you have finished your Estate Plan. What do you do now to make sure it works?
There are a few steps you should take, both shortly after your Estate Plan has been completed and in the long run, to make sure that your Estate Plan actually works the way you intended.
-Fund the trust!
This is a very important process to take care of. If you do not fund the trust, it pretty much defeats the purpose of having an Estate Plan. We have had many clients who completed their first Estate Plan with a different firm who didn't know what their trusts said and were not instructed on how to fund the trust. Thankfully, nothing happened to these clients, but if they had passed and the trust had not been funded, then their estate likely would still have gone through the probate process.
Funding the trust means making sure that your assets are appropriately managed. (Bank accounts are converted into trust accounts. Retirement accounts and life insurance policies have the appropriate beneficiaries.) We take funding the trust very seriously. We have clients give us their current asset information ahead of time so we can instruct them on what to do for each asset. We also follow-up with clients three months after their Estate Plans have been completed to check on funding progress and see if there are any questions. Lastly, if our clients work with a Financial Advisor and give us permission to, we can coordinate with the advisor on what to do.
-Tell your successor trustees and guardian nominees where your Estate Plan is located.
Ideally, the hard copy of your Estate Plan should be put somewhere safe in your home that they can access without needing a key they may not have. In this digital age, we will provide digital copies of all your documents to you. If you feel comfortable doing so, you can share these with your nominees. Please make sure they always have the most current version, in case you make any changes.
(I personally sent my nominees a Dropbox link that includes all of the current documents. This way, if I amend or change anything, they will only have the newest versions.)
Also, your Health Care agents should be given a copy of your Advance Health Care Directive. Your physician's office can be provided with a copy as well. Your Financial Power of Attorney can be shared with the financial institutions you use to ensure there are no issues.
-Keep updated lists of assets and accounts
It is more than likely that your assets and accounts will change over time. Ensure that when you acquire new assets, this is done appropriately (e.g. opened as a trust account, beneficiaries are named correctly, deed has the accurate vesting status). Along with this, you should keep an updated list of your assets in your Estate Planning binder. Even if the assets are appropriately designated, should your loved ones be unaware of the accounts, it is as if they didn't exist. Make sure your successor trustees have the information they need to know that you have the asset and how to access it.
-Review your plan every three years or when there is a major life change.
It is crucial that your plan is customized for your family's current situation, dynamics, and goals. Things can change, however, and when there are significant changes, your plan will need to adapt accordingly. For instance, if there is a death in the family, a change in relationships, or you want to change how your wishes are managed, you should revisit your Estate Plan. My rule of thumb is to look over it every three years so see that things still match what you wanted.
Your Estate Plan is comprised of living documents (typically the Revocable Living Trust, Will, Financial Power of Attorney, and Advance Health Care Directive). This means when you are still alive and have mental capacity, you can see an attorney to revise, revoke, or restate your plan. Our philosophy is that you take the process very seriously to begin with, but be mindful that if changes should be made, the option is there.