It is not usually necessary for clients to have their wills and/or trusts updated, if they have been prepared properly in the first place, unless there have been changes in one’s family and/or circle of friends. It is imperative, however, that one update their asset list on a regular basis. What is meant by this? Everyone should keep an up-to-date list of their assets, with account numbers and contact telephone numbers or email addresses, so that when one passes, family members know what exists. The other reason for doing this is to make sure that assets are properly titled and, where appropriate, have beneficiaries listed.
Why is it important to review the titling of assets? In the event one has an estate tax problem and is married, the titling of assets can be extremely pertinent and can serve to avoid taxes. While the estate tax exemption amounts are now quite high, no one knows what the future can bring. If the exemptions change, it may very well affect how the assets should be owned. Similarly, with a potential estate tax problem, having beneficiaries listed may not be a good idea.
One should also review their assets to make sure that beneficiaries are listed, where appropriate, especially if one has changed financial institutions. All too often, a client changes banks or brokers, and beneficiaries are left off. When it comes to IRAs, 401k plans, or other retirement accounts, having beneficiaries is essential to avoiding adverse income tax consequences. With respect to other assets, one should make sure that the beneficiaries are in fact the ones who are desired, and that nothing has changed since the initial designation. Assets which have beneficiaries pass to these individuals outside of one’s will and trust. It is important to know this in terms of designing one’s estate plan.
One other note of caution is that one should not list joint owners on one’s accounts, except for one’s spouse, as there are numerous risks to doing so and these risks should be carefully weighed against the benefits.