5 Estate Planning Questions to Ask to Keep on Track

By Bruce W. Fraser

Just as retirement planning should start well before you actually retire, estate planning should be an ongoing process. Here are five important questions we often discuss with our clients to ensure their estate plans are on track.

1. Did you acquire any real property?

What often happens is a client will meet with an attorney who will prepare trust documents for them, but often certain parts of the trust go unfunded. So if they have acquired real property, we want to make certain it is properly titled.

2. In the past year, did you create or purchase any accounts that require beneficiary designations?

Ensuring that a client’s primary and contingent beneficiaries are up to date is crucial. Assets that carry a beneficiary designation are distributed outside the trust. Therefore, the trust language will have no impact on these particular assets.

3. Has your family dynamic changed in the past year?

For example, has a client divorced, remarried or had children? These are all events that require review of the estate plan.

In the event of divorce, he or she will likely want to remove the ex-spouse as beneficiary and executor. In the event of remarriage, it is important to review the documents to ensure their goals are still met.

For example, a client may wish to include the new spouse as beneficiary while ensuring that any children of a prior marriage are not disinherited.

4. Do your estate planning documents continue to reflect your wishes?

In this case we consider whether a will or a trust is more appropriate for each of our clients' individual situations. If privacy is a concern, a trust may be more appropriate because it is a private document, unlike a will, which becomes public record.

We also help determine whether our clients are satisfied with the persons designated as their agents under their powers of attorney or as beneficiaries. If not, we direct them in how to change them.

5. How is your property titled, and have you made any changes of survivorship?

If a client's goal is to avoid the probate process, joint tenants with the rights of survivorship may be an option, if permitted by state law, as these forms of ownership have survivorship features.