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Estate Plan Fall Tune-Up

Constructing an appropriate estate plan requires a substantial investment of time, money and emotion. Once the documents are finalized, they often sit in a drawer and are forgotten, an item checked off a to-do list. We are here to remind you that estate plans are living documents, with responsibilities granted to real people and coverage for situations that change over time. October is National Estate Planning Month, so at this time, we offer the following checklist to assess whether you should touch base with your attorney or financial planner to make some changes or adjustments to your plan, accordingly. These are some of the more common areas that might precipitate change.


  • Have your children reached adulthood, has your marital status changed or have you changed your state of residency? These are a few of life’s transitions that should prompt a review of your estate plan.
  • Are the named fiduciaries and agents still the right people to carry out your wishes? Are they up for the task? If you have multiple agents, consider whether they may act individually or must act jointly.
  • Do the important people in your family know the location of your documents? Be sure to include your attorney, accountant and financial advisor’s name and phone number with these documents.

Power of Attorney (POA)

  • Confirm terms of your POA as “durable” (effective immediately) or “springing” (contingent upon particular event occurring) and whether those terms are still applicable.
  • Do you want to limit your agent’s power?  If you would like to limit your agent’s power, the document will need to reflect these restrictions.  For example, incapacity confirmed by a medical professional. Please give careful consideration to the latitude given to this individual(s) with regard to your financial matters.
  • Keep in mind that a POA is only effective when you are alive.

 Health Care Power of Attorney and Living Will

  • Review appointed and successor agents. Given the nature of this role, local or easily reachable agents are preferred.
  • If you are planning to undergo a health procedure, consider executing the relevant medical institution’s Health Care POA form as a supplement to what you currently have in place.
  • Ensure that you have clearly expressed your wishes concerning end-of-life treatment options, including provisions for life-prolonging procedures and support in the event of a terminal condition.

Last Will and Testament

  • Review your executor/personal representative appointment and successors. Confirm that such individuals are still appropriate to act as an appointed fiduciary. If you name co-executors, weigh the benefits against the complications of two individuals sharing responsibility. Often one of the named individuals takes a primary administrative role.
  • Review guardians for minor children. Do the guardians share the same values to raise your children?  Would your children have to move? Are they at a different stage of life where this may be too burdensome?  
  • Typically, we recommend that guardians and trustees are different for separation of duties and to ensure that your children’s financial needs are prioritized.
  • If you hold testamentary powers of appointment (the ability to direct where assets go) in your trust or an inherited trust, ensure they are properly exercised under your Will.
  • Does your Will include plans for digital assets and information? Provide a list of logins and passwords for all accounts to your attorney or loved ones.
  • Review or write your letter of instruction (also called a testamentary letter or side letter) expressing your personal thoughts and directions regarding what is in the will and your intentions.

Revocable (Living) Trust

  • Have you funded your trust by retitling your assets in the name of your trust? This is often overlooked after estate documents are finished. You have total control of assets titled in the name of your revocable trust. These assets are available during your lifetime but avoid probate upon death, an important feature.
  • Are the trustees and successors still the right people or do you need to appoint a corporate fiduciary?
  • Are distributions at the trustee’s discretion or at certain ages? Have you considered safeguards for beneficiaries to protect against potential divorces, substance abuse or creditor protection?
  • Does your Will pour over into your trust?

Irrevocable Trusts

  • Do you have an Irrevocable Life Insurance Trust (ILIT)? Confirm that Trustee is properly administering trust, including making premium payments and timely Crummey notices.
  • Do you have a GRAT? Ensure that Trustee is properly administering trust and actions do not risk inclusion into your taxable estate.
  • Do you have a QPRT? Monitor the terms and plan for transfer of ownership and possible need to rent back the residence.
  • Confirm income tax returns are properly filed for your irrevocable trusts.

Beneficiary Designations

  • Keep in mind that a Beneficiary Designation form governs the disposition of retirement plans, annuities, life insurance policies, etc., not your estate plan.
  • Always make sure you have primary and secondary beneficiaries noted. Do you want them to share equally of have different percentages?
  • Have you experienced any life events that would suggest a change in beneficiaries, such as, births, deaths, divorces, special needs, etc.
  • If you’ve been with the same employer, or have old retirement plans or life insurance policies, make sure you review the beneficiary form periodically.
  • Of special note, a divorce decree does not automatically revise former spouse beneficiary status on employer-sponsored retirement plans, and IRAs. Since the law requires that a spouse be the primary beneficiary of a qualified retirement plan such as a 401(k), unless they waive the right in writing, this can be an overlooked item following a divorce.


  • If you or your children are marrying and have a premarital agreement, make sure your estate plan is coordinated and working in concert with this document.
  • If you have a child with special needs or mental health concerns, you may want to set up a separate trust that offers protections or can ensure eligibility for certain government programs.
  • If you are looking to protect assets from long-term care expenses, you may want to consider setting up a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust which protects assets from being counted for Medicaid eligibility. This needs to be in place five years before Medicaid benefits are needed.
  • Review non-probate transfers to ensure that they align with your Will and trust. These include beneficiary designations discussed above, and jointly owned, Transfer on Death (TOD) or Payable on Death (POD) designations often found on bank or investment accounts.

Remember, your estate plan is only as good as its updated information! Do not hesitate to reach out and contact the team at Sandy Cove if you have questions about any of the above items.