It's important to review your existing estate plan regularly. A good rule of thumb is to go over all of your documents every three-to-five years, although residents who have a large number of assets may wish to review their estate plans more often. However, you shouldn't wait to make changes to your documents if you've experienced a life event that could significantly impact your future wishes.

Life Events That Can Affect Your Florida Estate Plan

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A person’s needs, family members, and possessions change considerably over the years. Florida law allows for the protection of children, spouses, businesses, and even pet care planning, but these protections will only remain in place as long as you keep the designations on your estate plan current.

Major life events that can impact your estate plan include:

  • Marriage or divorce. While the law allows some direct inheritance of shared property for spouses, your spouse will not automatically become your beneficiary. If you want your spouse to inherit your property; have access to your life insurance and brokerage accounts; and make end-of-life decisions for you, you must specifically name him or her in your estate plan. In addition, any former spouses whom you no longer wish to inherit assets or make decisions on your behalf should be removed from these documents as soon as possible.
  • Birth and adoption. As your family grows, you may wish to expand your estate plan to accommodate new family members. Not only should you specifically name your children and grandchildren as heirs, but you should stipulate who will care for minor children if you die before the child turns 18. There are additional protections available if your child or grandchild has special needs; requires funds for education; or if you wish to provide for a child from a previous marriage.
  • Buying a home. Any significant acquisition of property, real estate, or other assets should be included in an estate plan. For most people, a home is the largest life purchase they will ever make, and an estate planning attorney can advise them on how to pass on the property to a surviving spouse or children after their death. You should also update an existing plan if you move to another state; purchase real estate in another state; or wish to minimize the amount of estate taxes your beneficiaries will owe.
  • Opening or closing a business. If you're a partner in a business concern, you can outline your wishes for succession; who should receive your holdings; and who should take over the day-to-day operations of the business. If the opening of the business involved borrowing a large amount of money, an attorney can prevent bill collectors from seeking debt repayment out of your personal holdings. If your business was sold or dissolved, an attorney can excise any professional beneficiaries from your will.
  • Changes in your health. If you've been diagnosed with a degenerative condition or another health concern that can affect your decision-making ability, carefully consider who should care for you if you become incapacitated. Your estate plan should include powers of attorney for finances, designations of health care surrogate, and a living will—for both you and your spouse. Updating your documents may also allow your family to protect your assets in the event you need long-term care from Medicaid.
  • Changing insurance policies. Update your estate plan any time you buy a new insurance policy or make a drastic change in your coverage. Beneficiaries designated in life insurance policies generally take precedence over those named in wills or trusts, but ensuring that all documents agree can save confusion and possible court costs later.

Changes to the Law

Many estate plans do not age very will due to changes in the law, so we generally say that you should review your estate plan with your attorney every 5 years. For instance, Florida drastically changed their durable power of attorney statute in 2011 and also changed the Designation of Healthcare Surrogate in 2015. While the Federal estate tax exemption is now very high (i.e., $5.49 million per person in 2017), your older estate planning documents may need drastic changes as well.

Legal Trends May Change

While most estate planning tries to save your family time and money by avoiding probate, other trends have recently emerged in estate planning. For instance, your estate plan can help protect your children's inheritance from their creditors, ex-spouses or even the high cost of long-term care.  If you want to protect your assets from the high cost of nursing home care, you may want to consider an irrevocable asset protection trust as well.

We Can Help With Important Decisions

Failure to update wills and trust documents can cause confusion and financial problems for your family members down the road. For example, if you've named a guardian to your children who has predeceased you, your surviving family members may be forced to choose a guardian amongst themselves.

Reviewing your estate plan at regular intervals helps ensure that your wishes are followed and that your beneficiaries receive proper care after your passing. We can review the designations in your will, trusts, and healthcare directives, and advise you of changes in state or federal inheritance laws to minimize your tax liability. Contact us today to discuss your future wishes with a member of our legal team.