Q: I lost a parent recently to COVID-19 and discovered they had not updated their estate documents in quite some time, which is making things a little challenging for the family. It got me thinking how long it has been since I’ve updated my will as well. Is this a good time to be updating documents?
A: I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, especially during this challenging time. There’s never a bad time to review and potentially update your estate documents. It’s always better to be certain your plans are current, to insure your wishes will be carried out as intended.
Your Estate Plan: Time for a Checkup
COVID 19 has brought tragedy to many families and businesses and impacted personal finances. It has also rendered many an estate plan inaccurate and unrepresentative of current circumstances. If you, your family or your beneficiaries have been affected by the virus, you may need to review and make changes to your plan. Consider the following questions in your review.
Are your beneficiary designations still accurate?
If you have lost someone named in your estate plan, you’ll need to make the appropriate changes. This could include changing beneficiaries, trustees, executors, healthcare decision-makers, your legal power of attorney or any other parties named in the plan.
You’ll also want to ensure that your beneficiary designations are up-to-date for your retirement accounts, such as an IRA (Individual Retirement Account) or 401(k), where beneficiaries are designated directly, rather than through your will. You may also wish to consider adding contingent, or “back-up” beneficiaries, rather than just naming primary beneficiaries.
Has the size of your estate changed?
If you have taken a financial hit as a result of the pandemic, then you may need to adjust some aspects of your estate plan. Adjustments may also be needed if the size of your estate has increased significantly. A large change in the total value of your assets could affect the distribution of your assets, particularly if you have made specific bequests to individuals or charities rather than dividing your estate proportionally. Considering making bequests by a percentage of your estate rather than a fixed dollar amount may provide some additional flexibility.
If you own a business, you may also need to consider how its value may have changed and how that might impact your plans to pass on control.
Are your minor children still protected?
If you have named a guardian for your minor children, check to ensure that person is still willing and able to serve in that role. And ask yourself if you still have confidence in your choice of guardian. A different job, a move out of state, or other changed circumstances may make your original choice no longer optimal.
In addition, it may make sense to keep the financial responsibilities of guardianship separate from the actual care of the minor children. You could choose a professional fiduciary to provide financial management on behalf of the minor children and name a family member to provide their actual day-to-day care.
Is your life insurance coverage still appropriate?
If your circumstances have altered materially as a result of the pandemic, you may also want to take a look at your life insurance coverage, too. Any significant changes to your life — births, deaths, marriages, or divorces — could affect your life insurance needs. It’s important to ensure that you have adequate coverage for you and your loved ones. And again, please be sure your beneficiary designations on your life insurance are current as well, as these will typically pass directly to those named on the policy, rather than transfer through your will.
Do you have up-to-date documents?
Any updates needed as a result of your review will need to be reflected in your estate documents. These typically include a will, healthcare proxy, and power of attorney. They may also include a living will or trust documents. Keep in mind, however, that estate planning can be a complex endeavor. Therefore, any estate planning decisions or changes are best made with the help of a qualified legal professional and the rest of your professional team.
Please feel free to contact me if you need assistance or a recommendation to a qualified estate planning attorney who understands the planning needs of our LGBT community.
Jeremy R. Gussick is a Certified Financial Planner™ professional affiliated with LPL Financial, the nation’s largest independent broker-dealer.* Jeremy specializes in the financial planning and retirement income needs of the LGBT community and was recently named a 2020 FIVE STAR Wealth Manager as mentioned in Philadelphia Magazine.** He is active with several LGBT organizations in the Philadelphia region, including DVLF (Delaware Valley Legacy Fund) and the Independence Business Alliance (IBA), the Philadelphia Region’s LGBT Chamber of Commerce. OutMoney appears monthly. If you have a question for Jeremy, you can contact him via email at [email protected]
Jeremy R. Gussick is a Registered Representative with, and securities and advisory services are offered through LPL Financial, a Registered Investment Advisor, Member FINRA/SIPC.
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**Award based on 10 objective criteria associated with providing quality services to clients such as credentials, experience, and assets under management among other factors. Wealth managers do not pay a fee to be considered or placed on the final list of 2020 Five Star Wealth Managers.