New Year's Resolution - Look at that Will or Estate Plan

Early January is a great time of year.  Everyone is full of enthusiasm for all we are going to accomplish this year.  Maybe you even sat down over the weekend and made a list of goals for 2012. One of your 2012 goals may very well be "Get a Will", "Review my Will", of "Find out if I need a Will."  Luckily, unlike some other New Year's Resolutions, meeting these goals is easy.

First, why do you need a Will?  We have answered this an some other estate plan "overview" questions with "Why do I need a Will?  And other frequently asked questions about Estate Planning". You can use this short article as a starting point about:

  • Why do I need a Will?
  • What happens if I die without a Will?
  • What is a "Living Will"?
  • Do I need a Power of Attorney?
  • What is a Trust?
  • What is a Living Trust or Revocable Trust?
  • Will a Will or a Revocable Trust help me save taxes?

Next, if you have an estate plan or Will already, is it still working for you?  Have you planned for today's tax laws, as opposed to the ones in place when you originally  put the plan together?  Are your named fiduciaries (Executor, Trustee, Guardian) still appropriate?  Has there been a material change in your circumstances so your current Will or estate plan just doesn't fit you anymore?  To address these questions and many others we have created a detailed "Estate Plan Review Checklist" to help you determine the suitability of your current estate planning documents.  The Checklist includes both questions to ask about your estate plan, and explanation of why to ask them. Questions asked on the Checklist, and the reasons for them, include:

  • Do you have the 3 documents every estate plan must contain? (Will, Living Will/Health Care Proxy, Power of Attorney)
  • Have you moved since you last updated your estate planning documents?
  • Do you have a separate personal property designation?
  • Is any person receiving your personal property a minor (under 18)?
  • Do you have any specific gifts or bequests you want to make?
  • Are your total combined assets, including life insurance death benefits, greater than $675,000?
  • Do you own assets held in joint accounts, or where you have a named beneficiary?
  • Are your residuary beneficiaries correct?
  • Are assets being distributed to your beneficiaries outright or in trust?
  • If you currently have a trust established, are the terms still appropriate?
  • Do any of your beneficiaries have special needs?
  • *Does your estate plan contain provisions to allow you and your family to be as flexible as possible in meeting your goals?
  • *What authority does the Trustee have to distribute the assets in the trust?
  • Are your alternate beneficiary designations appropriate?
  • Are your Executors, Trustees, and Guardians still the appropriate people, in the appropriate order?
  • If you have a taxable estate (assets exceeding $675,000), have you and your spouse reallocated ownership of and title to your assets to minimize estate taxes?
  • Is your General Durable Power of Attorney more than 10 years old?
  • Does your General Durable Power of Attorney continue to name appropriate attorneys-in-fact?
  • Does your General Durable Power of Attorney allow for Medicaid planning?
  • Does your Health Care Power of Attorney continue to name appropriate Health Care Representatives?
  • Does your Health Care Power of Attorney reference the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”)?
  • Does your Living Will clearly state your desire about what medical treatment you want to receive or refuse in a terminal situation?
  • Does somebody know where all of your estate planning documents are?

Considering that 88% of New Years Resolutions fail, why not look at your estate plan to find out how to keep at least one of those resolutions this year?

Happy 2012!

Image: Grant Cochrane /

Steve Jobs' Estate Plan - Private Business can remain Private with a Revocable Trust

Steve JobsI think that history will compare Steve Jobs with Thomas Edison in the effect that his visionary influence had on the world, and the speed with which it spread. You can thank Steve Jobs for revolutionary inventions from the mouse to the iPad.  He changed the way we communicate forever.

Much has been said about what an intensely private person Steve Jobs was - he put his business and ideas in the spotlight, not himself.  It is likely his estate plan will also be that private - which I think is a good thing.  Remember how Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis valued her privacy - and then her Will became available for all to see when she died?  Why should I have a right to know who she benefited and how?  Why should you?  It seems so rude that in death the public has a right to know that which they would never have learned during the person's life.

I am sure that Steve Jobs had excellent estate advice.  It is likely that his estate plan consisted of trusts that were designed to keep his ultimate distribution of assets private.  His Will is going to be a "Pour-Over Will" where the sole provision is "I give anything I own to my trust."  While the Will would be a public record document, the trust will not be.

While you might not have a net worth of $6.7 billion, you may very well have an estate plan that you consider to be nobody else's business.  In that case, you too can use a Revocable Trust as a Will substitute. You still have a Will, which will be filed as a public record upon your death, but that Will merely directs all your asses to the Revocable Trust.  You testamentary wishes and distribution scheme will be set out in the Revocable Trust, which is not a public document.  Thus, the only people who know who got what and how are your heirs and beneficiaries.