After finally getting around to updating my life insurance policy since my second daughter was born, and shaming my husband into getting more organized (thank you!), I realized it was time to take a look at my broader estate plan.
“Estate plan” sounds so official. Yes, there’s the big, adult-sounding things like an advance directive, will, and power of attorney, but it’s also the things we need to access everyday. Like updated passwords, lists of accounts we use most frequently and how to access them, important contacts, and other necessary details and documents organized and shared with the right people.
I was very proud to make progress, but I also know it’s a process that never really ends. The first push is always the hardest, but this kind of plan, like everything else in life, requires maintenance. Whether it’s because you hit a certain milestone in life, or it’s been a few years (in my case, almost three), it’s very important to make sure it’s still as current and useful as the day you initially made those decisions.
Even If You Don’t Think You Have An “Estate,” You Have An Estate
No one is exempt from having a large, complicated, and often messy estate. Even people who think they have very little still have bank accounts, a home, car, possessions, digital accounts, and important mementos. We all have such busy lives that it never feels like a priority, which is why you have to make it one.
The most important things to review are the people you’ve named to either carry out specific duties, those who’ll receive benefits if something happens to you, and any key decisions you’ve made. Are these people still alive, in your life, and trustworthy? Are your kids old enough to take on some of these tasks? Did the person you named as a guardian for your children have a life change that would make them no longer the right candidate? Here are nine quick questions to keep in mind when doing some routine maintenance:
- Are you still happy with the allocation of assets you made in your will, or do you need to make some adjustments to your inheritors and beneficiaries?
- Are you satisfied with the person you named as the guardian of your children or special needs adults? Are they still ready, willing, and able?
- Does your family know where to find your will?
- Is your advance directive — the combination of your living will and naming a health care proxy — easy to find in case of a medical emergency?
- Is your health care proxy still on board to carry out your medical wishes to the letter?
- Is it time to renew a term life insurance policy? If you’ve let any insurance policy lapse, have you told anyone? (It’s not a nice surprise for a family member to believe they are covered and find out they weren’t at the worst possible moment.)
- Has anything changed in your life that would merit needing *more* insurance? (In my case, having a second child.)
- Does your family/loved ones have the contact info for the following professionals in your life: financial, legal, and medical?
- Have you shared your online/digital passwords with someone you trust?
When Maintenance Is Required
After experiencing any of the life events listed below, it’s time to take a look and make necessary changes and updates:
- Birth or adoption of a child
- When your kids are no longer minors
- If you move, especially to another state or country
- New job
- Medical issues, such as minor surgery or any health scares or diagnosis
- If you’re the primary caretaker for a special needs adult dependent or an aging parent
- The expiration of a term life insurance policy
- Major purchase or sale (home, property, business)
- Death of a spouse, family member, or someone close (Facing mortality, or seeing the effects when someone doesn’t have a solid estate plan, often jolts people into action)
- Any personal factor and changes (example: a falling out with family; becoming passionate about a cause or charity)
Even if you don’t experience any of these things, you should still make sure everything is up-to-date, easy for your family and loved ones to locate, and in the proper order every five years. Think of it like jury duty. It may seem like a hassle, but the moment you’ve completed your service it’s a huge relief and you’re off the hook…for now.