New School Year May Require a New Estate Plan

For parents and students, the commencement of a new school year is much like what January 1st is to everyone else: Looking back on the recent life events and choices, while looking forward to the lofty ideals of what lays ahead – a fresh start to the “new” year. In the inception of the new school year, it is time to consider whether you are sporting an old, and less effective, estate plan. Explore your current status, and determine if you are properly prepared for tomorrow. A lot can happen in a year: children get older, family relationships change, or the size of your estate increases. Let us take a look at possible life events that can warrant a revised estate plan:

Marriage & Divorce: If you have recently married or divorced, it is important to go back through your current estate plan to see whether these life events are addressed in your will or trust documents. First and foremost, marriage does not revoke a will. Divorce, however, may have an effect on the validity of the will. When you fail to amend your will following a divorce, and unless there is a provision within it that states otherwise, the will is treated as if the former spouse died upon divorce (wishful thinking, right?). As an alternative, the divorce or dissolution of marriage judgment can contain such language stating that the provisions in the will regarding the former spouse are valid, notwithstanding the divorce. Therefore, if you no longer want your former spouse to be the beneficiary of any portion of your estate, you need to check the language of your current will. If you get married following the execution of an estate plan, your spouse is entitled to an intestate share (in Florida, this is “per stirpes”) of your estate by statute, unless the new spouse waives the right, or the document itself provides otherwise (intent not to provide for new spouse, or provision providing for spouse in contemplation of marriage). Also, you may have had your former spouse designated as a Power of Attorney, or health-care surrogate. Thus, it is very important to ensure that your estate plan is consistent with your wishes following a divorce or marriage.

Children: if you have a new child following the creation of your estate plan, it is important to ensure that your new bundle of joy is provided for. You may want to set up a trust, a 529-college plan (see “Student Tax Holidays & Savings,” above), alter beneficiary designations in your will, and nominate a legal guardian.

Estate Size Increase: You want to make certain that your estate plans are tailored to your estate size. Therefore, when your estate increases, you may want to make some changes in terms of tax and estate planning. Furthermore, if you have an estate plan that is set up to avoid probate, and acquire new property, you will want to assign that property to your living trust. You may want to consider a variety of estate planning strategies, anywhere from setting up an LLC to protect certain assets from lawsuits, to reducing the size of your estate for tax purposes.