Life changes that warrant revisiting your estate plan

Many people put off estate planning either based on the assumption that they’ll eventually get around to it or because they assume that state intestate laws will always protect their best interests. Delaying in planning one’s estate isn’t a good idea, nor is assuming that New York intestate succession laws will align with what you want to happen with your assets if you don’t have a will in place.

Many individuals also mistakenly believe that after you sit down and engage in estate planning, you’re done. However, you must regularly revisit your estate plan to ensure it still aligns with your interests. Additionally, it’s important to revisit your estate plan any time major life changes occur. Some instances that warrant an update to your estate plan include:

Marriage or divorce

Marriage, divorce and remarriage warrant you revisiting your estate plan. You may want to add your new spouse as one or more of the following: 

  • An heir to your estate
  • A beneficiary on your insurance policies or your retirement plan
  • An authorized user on your bank account (or you can sign a financial power of attorney giving them the right to act on your behalf)
  • A health care proxy

If you’re divorcing, you may want to remove your spouse as the designee in the different roles described above. Simply signing divorce papers doesn’t remove your former spouse’s right to inherit your assets if you pass away or make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. This is why it is imperative to revisit these documents immediately following any change in marital status. 

When a beneficiary is born or dies

Another instance in which it’s imperative that you review and update your estate plan is if a new child comes into your life. You may want to:

  • Designate a guardian for them in your will. 
  • Add them as an heir to your estate
  • Establish a trust to provide for their needs.

Alternatively, you will want to revisit your estate plan if a beneficiary dies in order to remove them from any insurance or pension designation forms and as a recipient of your estate assets. You may also need to select an alternate to replace a deceased loved one if they retained the power of attorney, personal representative or some other legal status in your life.

New York intestacy laws dictate what happens to your estate when you either don’t have a will or the one you do have is invalidated by a probate judge, known as a surrogate here in New York. In most cases, these laws require your assets to be divided among your nuclear family members and more-distant ones before going to the state. It’s critical that you regularly review your estate plan, and especially after life changes if you want to have a say over what happens if you become incapacitated or pass away.

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