By M. Erin Zuber
According to news reports, Heath Ledger, the young actor who died in 2008, had a will. In his will he had designated his parents and sisters as the beneficiaries of his estate. Unfortunately, he had not revised his will to include his daughter when she was born.
His parents and sisters agreed to give the entire estate to his daughter. However, it could easily have become a costly and protracted legal struggle for his daughter’s guardian if the family had been uncooperative.
Do you have a will? If so, when was the last time you reviewed your will to be sure that it still meets your needs and reflects your wishes?
Few people probably enjoy making a will. It can be an unwelcome reminder of one’s mortality. However, peace of mind can come from knowing that you have a properly drafted and current will. Good stewardship calls each of us to have a plan or will that outlines the final disposition of our accumulated blessings. Good stewardship also calls each of us to periodically review our will or estate plan to ensure that it is current with our present circumstances.
How often should one review an existing will? We recommend that you review your will and related items such as life insurance and pension plans at least once a year. Tax season may be the most advantageous time to review these documents since you are already in the process of gathering important papers and documents that may relate to your will.
Here are just a few circumstances that make it vital to review and update your will:
- Marriage, birth of a child, adoption, divorce or death of a beneficiary. Changes in your family status are important times to update your estate documents.
- Designation of a new executor for the estate. Your requirements for an executor may have changed or your current executor is no longer able to serve.
- Significant increase or decrease in value of financial assets. With all the changes that can happen in a financial portfolio, it is critical to review your estate plans so that they reflect your current assets.
- Acquisition of additional real estate or personal property. Any time you add items that you may wish to leave with specific instructions you should amend your documents.
- Transfer of residency to another state. Estate laws change from state to state and you will want your documents to be relevant for your state of residence.
- Designation of a non-family beneficiary such as your parish, the archdiocese, or another charitable cause. Consider leaving your parish or archdiocesan ministry a percentage of your estate or the balance remaining after bequests are distributed to your loved ones.
- Change in tax laws regarding inheritance taxes or estate plans. Check with your estate planning professional to make sure your plan is up to date with the federal estate law tax changes effective January 1, 2013.
All the life changing factors listed above can happen from time to time. Your will or other estate related documents should change with them. In some cases, a simple codicil (amendment) can be made to an existing will. In other instances, you may need to draft a new document. By working with estate planning professionals to update your overall estate plan your documents should protect your wishes, be financially efficient, while also having a positive impact on your family and the causes you care about.
Remember, some changes in your life may also affect other parts of your estate plan that are not controlled by your will. For example, you may need to change beneficiary designations on your life insurance policies or retirement plan assets. These updates can be simple to make and may be adjusted by contacting your plan administrator or agent.
Once you have a properly prepared or updated will, keep the will in a safe place such as a bank safety deposit box and destroy all copies of earlier outdated wills. Be sure that your executor knows where to find the will. According to an article by Erik Carter, JD, CFP on the www.Forbes.com web site, Olympic athlete, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, had a will but did not tell her husband where it was located. He could not find it within the thirty day filing requirement as specified by law. As a result, her husband and mother ended up going to court and a third party was appointed to administer the estate.
The practice of Christian stewardship involves receiving, planning and sharing the gifts God has entrusted to us. By preparing and updating a valid will, we are practicing good and faithful stewardship.
For more information on how you can remember your parish or the Archdiocese of Louisville in your will, please contact Erin Zuber at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 585-3291, ext. 1128.
M. Erin Zuber is director of planned giving for the Archdiocese of Louisville.