Completing your estate plan for the first time is a significant milestone. It means that you have taken an important step forward in planning for your family’s future. Our clients often breathe a sigh of relief after signing their estate planning documents, knowing the plans they have often long discussed are now finally in place. However, just because you have signed your documents does not necessarily mean your estate plan is complete. There are often a variety of tasks we recommend you complete after signing your estate planning documents to ensure your plans are fully realized.
1. Update Your Beneficiary Designations. After signing your estate planning documents, we recommend you review the primary and contingent beneficiary designations you have listed for your (i) life and accidental death insurance policies, (ii) retirement plan, pension plan, 401(k) plan, IRA and profit sharing plans, and (iii) any other contract, annuity, deferred compensation arrangement, policy or plan where a benefit is payable to a named beneficiary upon death. Most of these contract payments pass outside of the provisions of your will or trust directly to the named beneficiary identified in the beneficiary designation form. This means that simply updating your will or trust does not necessarily change the beneficiary of such contact payments. It is often necessary to update these beneficiary designations to ensure such payments will be made to your intended beneficiary and coordinated with your overall estate plan. Your attorney should discuss with you his or her recommendations for updating your beneficiary designations after you complete your estate plan and can often help you to do so if you have any questions.
2. Prepare a List of Tangible Personal Property Bequests. Under Wisconsin law, you can incorporate certain language into your will that allows you the ability to leave a written statement or list disposing of items of tangible personal property at the time of your death. This list is separate from your will, and you can prepare it on your own if you wish. This provides you with increased flexibility to update such bequests. The list may only dispose of tangible personal property, such as jewelry, household furnishings, etc., and may not dispose of monetary assets. To be enforceable, the list must describe the items and their recipients with reasonable certainty, and it needs to be signed and dated by you. However, if you anticipate any disagreement among the beneficiaries, you can certainly have the list witnessed or notarized. You may change or revoke the list at any time. If you choose to prepare a list and decide to subsequently change it, we recommend that you destroy the old list and prepare an entirely new list. You should always avoid erasing or crossing out prior entries on your list because this can lead to confusion regarding your intentions and possibly compromise the enforceability of the list.
3. Prepare and Maintain a Current List of Assets and Liabilities. We recommend that you regularly maintain a list of all of your substantial assets (home, checking and savings accounts, investments, retirement plans, or otherwise) and liabilities. We also suggest that you maintain a list of your insurance policies, policy numbers, and the name of the agent for each policy. By regularly maintaining such lists, the person handling your estate will have accurate information regarding your assets and liabilities, and this can significantly increase the ease and efficiency with which he or she can settle your estate. These lists should be updated at least annually and be kept in a safe and secure location where the person handling your estate knows how to access them.
4. Review and Update Your Estate Plan as Needed. The estate plan which is appropriate for you now may not be suitable years from now. We recommend that you contact your attorney and review your estate plan when any one or more of the following occur (i) when you move from Wisconsin to another state, (ii) when there is a change in your family circumstances (divorce, marriage, death of a child, marriage of a child, new grandchildren, incapacity of spouse or children, etc.), (iii) if there is a significant change in the law which may have an impact on your estate, and (iv) finally, even if you do not have a change in family circumstances or finances, it is advisable to regularly review your estate planning documents to make sure that they are a current statement of your preferences regarding the disposition of your property upon death.
The above recommendations are general tasks that should be completed in most all estate plans. However, there may also be specific tasks that need to be completed that are unique to your individual estate. Be sure to discuss with your attorney what tasks need to be completed after your estate planning documents have been signed to ensure your estate plan will fully accomplish your goals.