After this holiday season, who are you cutting out of your will?

I usually tell clients to read their will around the time of their birthday, every 3 years. This year, it’s January and I’m thinking “Hmmmm. Who wasn’t so nice to me this year around the holidays? Do they need to remain in my will?”

All joking aside, it’s good to read your will every few years just to see if there are any additions or deletions to make. It’s also worth paying your attorney for an hour or two of their time to make sure everything is up to date with current tax laws and current state laws that pertain to estate planning that may have changed effective January 1st. For instance, I know Georgia made some change to one of the estate planning documents recently.

Always check with your attorney but I discuss the advantages and disadvantages of establishing a revocable trust in addition to having your Will, Healthcare Directive, and Durable Powers of Attorney in place. In states where it’s costly and complicated to probate a will, paying a little extra for the trust makes a lot of sense. If you do establish a trust, then make sure you change the ownership of all the assets you want in the trust or the estate will end up having to go through probate anyway. Review the advantages and disadvantages of making the trust the beneficiary on insurance and retirement plans.

It’s also a good time to make sure beneficiary designations are current on group and individual life insurance policies, including any benefits at credit card companies, credit unions and banks. I’ve heard the horror stories of the woman filing the death claims only to find out her husband never changed the beneficiary designations from his ex-wife. Ouch!!!

During my first few years in the life insurance business I handled a death claim on a policy that had been sold many years earlier by another agent who was no longer in the business. I had talked with the husband, the insured, a few times and we were in the process of scheduling a meeting to review all of their insurance. We were planning to include his wife in our next meeting. An unfortunate motorcycle accident took his life and he was only in his mid-50’s. Well, without my knowledge, he had changed his beneficiary to his 7 year old granddaughter. I got to meet his wife to help file the claim, only to tell her she was not the beneficiary. Another Ouch!!!

Also review contact information for the “Lapse Notification” on Long Term Care insurance to make sure it is current and accurate. Often someone who files a claim on disability or Long Term Care insurance has had an accident or a major illness, such as a stroke. During the first few months after the accident or onset of the illness, things can get missed. I know of an individual who is single who had a stroke and the premium was missed on the long term care insurance so it lapsed. Unfortunately, they had never established a person to be notified if the policy premium wasn’t paid or the policy was going to lapse.

You may also have had that college student come home for the holidays after their first semester of college. Have you thought about having them get their estate in order? Accidents can happen that may not take a life but may require the use of a Healthcare Directive. By having your young adult who’s now 18 or 19 get their estate in order, you’re teaching them to be a responsible adult. Plus, you know that their wishes are being taken care of when they choose which option to select for end of life issues. May not be a comfortable discussion at first, but it shows them the need to make adult decisions. It’s better to have these discussions while everyone is healthy and happy instead of after an accident or illness when emotions are high.

So take the time and read it. Then you know things will go as YOU plan if something were to happen to you.


Article By: Mark A. Buhrke, ChFC®, CLU® , Vice President, Private CFO™
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About the author  ⁄ Mark Buhrke

Mark Buhrke

Mark grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and spent his junior high and high school years in a small town in Central Illinois. After graduating from Concordia University Chicago with double majors in Computer Science and Business Administration and a minor in Music, he stayed in Chicago until moving to Atlanta in 2002. He’s been helping his clients have more peace and confidence regarding their financial world and estate planning since 1985. He doesn’t bring “the right” answer but he brings 30 years of asking the right questions so that his clients uncover their own “right answers”. Background and qualification information is available at FINRA's BrokerCheck website.

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