By Tim Barkley. December 2012.

With each new year comes a new opportunity to consider your estate plan and make sure it is up-to-date – or to make one if you don’t have on already! Because we are time-bound mortals, the change of seasons reminds us of changes in our lives and of their fragility.

Have you ever drafted documents at all? If not, you should know that the State’s choices on your behalf are not usually the best ones for you or your loved ones. That should not come as a surprise, but if you fail to plan, you have made the government’s decisions your own.

Can you find the originals of your documents? Could your family find them? If the originals of your documents cannot be found after your death, your plan will be for naught, and your affairs will proceed as if you had no plan – using the State’s plan, with all of its flaws.

If you have left your documents with your attorney, consider calling your attorney to be sure he or she still has them. You might decide to pick them up and store them yourself – attorneys close their practices and go out of business, change phone numbers and move their offices just like every other businessperson, and it would be more than just inconvenient if your documents couldn’t be located when you needed them most.

Are your powers of attorney and medical directives up-to-date? These documents are often minimized, but with them you name someone to assist you with your own affairs if you are unable to manage them yourself. The law and standards change, and these documents need to be continually revised to reflect reality.

If your will and power of attorney do not authorize your fiduciary to gain access to your online and electronic “digital” assets, they need to be updated. These matters are not adequately provided for at law, and need to be included in your documents.

Are your fiduciaries – the people you named to serve your loved ones and manage your assets in the event of a tragedy – still alive? Competent? Do you still know them? Trust them? Would they still be willing to serve?

Are your beneficiary designations up-to-date on wills, trusts, insurance, and retirement assets? If your IRA is still payable to your deceased spouse, it will likely be distributed to your estate, causing immediate income taxation.

Do you know where to find your beneficiaries? Could your fiduciaries find your beneficiaries? It’s a shame to waste money trying to find people after the death of the only person who knew how to locate them. It’s an even greater shame to have money going to the wrong people when it’s too late to do anything about it.

Consider your choice of guardian for children or others under your care – disabled spouse, parents, minor grandchildren. Are the persons you have named still the best for the situation? In this most crucial of areas of responsibility, be sure you have discharged it well.

Be sure to include a list of updated beneficiary and fiduciary addresses, telephone numbers and other contact information with your documents. Include a list of your assets, including custodians, account numbers and contact information. Make sure this list includes “digital assets” – online access user names and passwords for bank and other financial assets; email and messaging access; social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter; personal data repositories such as Shutterfly; and “cloud” access. This step alone can save a great deal of time if you are unavailable to point your fiduciary in the right direction, when time might be of the essence.

Review amounts of insurance. Do you remember what the amount of insurance was to cover? Is that amount still adequate? Is it too much? As our lives change, so do our responsibilities. The amount projected to pay off the mortgage, raise and educate the kids, and supplement the surviving spouse’s retirement may not be needed as you approach retirement with the house mostly paid off, the kids finishing college and retirement income your pressing need. Conversely, the amount you took out when you graduated college and were still unmarried without children might not be enough now to protect those you love most.

Review your retirement plan. Are you investing enough? Are the earnings assumptions still correct? You might need to save more, invest differently, plan to work longer or take a part-time job upon retirement. Better to determine that now, as unpleasant as it might seem, than to find out only after bad assumptions lead to a bankrupt retirement.

Review your long-term care plan. Have you made provision for your own care during a period of incapacity or extended convalescence?

Talk to your parents, and to your adult children. Have they created and updated their plan? Or are they remiss in this regard? Encourage them to take this important step.

If your planning needs updating, make it happen now. Consult with your professional advisors, and make sure that your planning meets your reality.


Attorney Tim Barkley
The Tim Barkley Law Offices
One Park Avenue
P.O. Box 1136
Mount Airy
Maryland 21771

 (301) 829-3778

Wills & Trusts | Estate Planning | Probates & Estates
Elder Law | Real Estate | Business Planning