Whether or not you currently have estate planning documents, one important item to add to your calendar is getting an estate plan checkup.
Don’t Have an Estate Plan?
If you don’t already have an estate plan, then getting one in place should be at the top of your to-do list.
Why? Because without an estate plan, you and your property may end up in a court-supervised guardianship if you become incapacitated, and your property and your loved ones may end up in a time-consuming and expensive probate proceedings after you die. Josh Bryant is often asked if a simple will is enough, and while he appreciates the desire to cut costs the possibility of a guardianship or probate is reason enough to have a trust in the vast majority of scenarios.
Worse yet, if you don’t take the time to have any estate planning done, then the state where you live at the time of your death will essentially write one for you. It most likely won’t divvy up your property the way you would have and certainly will not protect your heirs the way you would.
A common misconception is that estate planning is only necessary for wealthy people. But this simply isn’t true – anyone with a bank or retirement account, a home, or a family needs to make a plan for what happens if they become incapacitated or when they die. Of course, the complexity of the plan will vary depending on your circumstances, but all estate plans should be put together with the help of an attorney like Josh Bryant who is experienced with the legal formalities required to create a valid will, trust, health care directive, and power of attorney in Arkansas.
How Old Is Your Estate Plan?
Do you already have an estate plan? If you do, then please pull your documents out of the drawer, dust them off, and look at the date you signed them.
Were your documents signed in the 80s or 90s, or, worse yet, before 1980? If so, please run, don’t walk, to the phone and call estate planning attorney Josh Bryant. Your documents are terribly out of date and need to be updated as soon as possible.
Did you sign your documents between 2000 and 2009? Aside from the federal estate tax exemption jumping from $675,000 to $3,500,000 during that time period, state estate taxes disappeared in many states. Because of the significant changes in federal and state estate taxes, documents from this time period may be out of date and need to be tweaked in some shape or form.
Did you sign your documents between 2010 and 2017? Federal estate taxes, gift taxes, and generation-skipping transfer taxes went through major changes during these years, and “portability” of the federal estate tax exemption between married couples was introduced. Unfortunately, while your estate planning documents may only be a few years old, they very likely do not take advantage of the opportunities made available from recent changes in federal tax laws.
And, it’s not just tax laws that are changing – modifications to state laws governing wills, trusts, health care directives, and powers of attorney may warrant some revisions to your estate planning documents as well. Just this session, the Arkansas General Assembly passed several acts affecting how trusts are treated in Arkansas.
And last but not least, regardless of what year you signed your estate planning documents, think about all of the changes in your life since you signed them. Did you get married or divorced, have a child or two or a grandchild or two, or move to a new state? Did you sell your business, retire, have a significant change in assets, or win the lottery? Any major changes in your family or financial situation will certainly have an affect on your estate plan.
Estate Planning Is Not a One Shot Deal
Estate planning is not a static event that you can grudgingly do once and then forget about it. On the contrary, estate planning is a continuing process, because life is a moving target that is full of constant change: Your estate plan needs to change as your life changes.
Josh Bryant is here to help you navigate the changes that have occurred since you had your estate plan prepared and ensure your wishes are still being carried out as you envisioned. For those needing an estate plan, Josh Bryant is here now and in the future to mold your estate plan as you move through the various stages of life.
So you have done the hard work of establishing an estate plan. Good for you! However, you still have serious work to do to ensure that the strategy you have selected will maximize your peace of mind and protect your legacy.
Josh Bryant agrees with the vast majority of estate planners: estate plans should be like living, breathing creations that reflect the changes in your life. Your life can and will change due to new births, children getting older, and other shifts in the family; changes to your investment portfolio, career and business; and changes to your health, where you live, and your core values. Likewise, external events, such as new tax legislation passed in our state or the development of a novel financial instrument, can throw your plan off track or open the door to new opportunities. Josh Bryant stays on top of these new laws and means of investment.
Obviously, you should do due diligence without spending inordinate amounts of time noodling over your plan. To that end, ask yourself the following “stress test” questions to assess whether you need to meet with Josh Bryant to update your approach:
1. When was the last time you updated your will or living trust? Since then, have you had new children or gotten divorced? Have you moved, opened or sold a business, or just changed your mind about the type of legacy you want to leave behind? Especially if big, tangible life events have occurred, strongly consider updating your documents as soon as possible. Also keep in mind that there may have been changes in the law since your last update that could significantly affect the viability of your plan.
2. Who have you named as executor and trustee? If you had to start your planning over from scratch today, would you still name the same people? If not, why not? Did you choose the best person for the job or was your choice based on less relevant factors? Is the person you chose still available to serve in that role?
3. Do you have adequate insurance? Many people do not have enough insurance for themselves or their businesses. They also fail to name contingent beneficiaries. Get your insurance policies in order, and make sure your designations match your estate plan.
4. How much of your property is jointly owned with someone other than your spouse? Jointly owned property has the potential to be double taxed. Take a look at your real property and seek advice on the proper adjustments to make in order to save on taxes when it's really necessary to save on taxes.
5. How's your record keeping? Nothing drives an executor crazy like sloppy record keeping.
6. When was the last time you gave your plan a thorough once-over? Even if nothing “huge” has happened in your life recently, if it’s been over five years since a qualified estate planning attorney has assessed your strategy, schedule a time to meet with Josh Bryant. Identify any issues, and iron out the kinks one at a time.
After going through the “stress test,” if you have any questions, please feel free to give Josh Bryant a call. Estate planning is an ongoing process, and he wants to make sure your wishes withstand the test of time.
Please allow me to be frank. It’s unrealistic to think that a piece of paper you draft, reflecting your life at a certain time, will work when your life has completely changed some years later. I'll use the Kendrick family as an example.
Meet the Kendricks
Meet Bill and Karen Kendrick. They got their first estate plan in place when their daughter, Jessica, was born 30 years ago. They updated it when their son Steve came along 4 years later. After attending one of Josh Bryant's living trust seminars 7 years ago, they got a fantastic trust-based plan in place, protecting themselves, their children, their grandchildren, and their dog, Sadie.
Unfortunately, the Kendricks didn’t join Josh Bryant's client maintenance program; instead, they elected to take responsibility for calling him for updates themselves. Life got busy and, as you might guess, they never called to update their documents.
Here’s what’s changed in their lives in the last 10 years.
Do you think their estate plan will still work the way they want it to?
Changes in Your Own Life
The Kendricks have experienced a lot of changes, but those changes are typical of what 10 years brings. Think about the changes in your life over the past 10 years — or since you last updated your estate plan.
Have you moved? Do you have more children or grandchildren? Have you started a business, suffered health problems, or purchased a new home? Do you have new accounts and investments? Do you now care for a parent, pets, or dependent children? Have you remarried, gotten divorced, or retired? Has someone you loved died? Have friends or family named in your plan as trusted helpers moved away, or has your relationship changed? Are your children now adults and able to help you? Do you want to help with grandchildren’s college or dance lessons? Do you see the world in a different way?
Many things have happened in the past 10 years. Your estate plan needs to reflect the changes in your personal life, financial situation, and goals. There have also been changes in the law. Josh Bryant stays abreast of these changes to protect his clients in better and better ways, so the way he does things has changed.
Is Your Estate Plan Out of Date?
If you’ve experienced changes like the Kendricks, or it’s been more than 3 to 5 years since you updated your estate plan, it’s time to come in. Josh Bryant will review your plan and chat with you about what’s been happening in your life. He can get you and your estate plan up to date, reflecting where your life is now.
Josh Bryant is an attorney, entrepreneur, pastor, and visionary with a heart to see churches, businesses, and families more secure, more effective, and more efficient in fulfilling their mission and bringing glory to God.