I owe a big-time apology to the officials of Ellis Island. In all of our lives, there are little myths that masquerade as facts: Names – your name, and mine.
Our ancestors came to this country with little more than their names, and even those could be screwy. Whenever a name spelling issue came up in conversation, the throwaway line I would utter was, “Well, it was probably changed at Ellis Island.” That assumption had reached certainty status in my brain a long time ago.
It turns out, Ellis Island staff relied on the ship manifests for name entries, any name discrepancies were most likely created in a European shipping office or other foreign governmental office in charge of issuing identification documents. Wow!
That is what we call a “reevaluation.” A set of facts, newly in existence or freshly discovered, may cause us to change our thinking. In estate planning, reevaluations pop up after a marriage, birth of a child, death, divorce, illness, career change, financial change, move or estrangement. Your fundamental personal relationships may have shifted, causing you to rethink named executors, agents and trustees.
On the positive side, loved ones who were facing difficulties may have rallied or shown progress worthy of a reconsideration.
Old documents reflect old realities, so it is good practice to read your estate planning documents and advance directives at least once a year. Laws change, which means some of your best-laid plans may no longer make sense.
Medicaid rules that were in place in 2002 bear little resemblance to today’s long-term care planning, estate tax planning with Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts has been recalibrated due to the rise in the estate tax exemption, and the New York Power of Attorney form has undergone numerous changes since I have been in practice… to name a few.
Individual estate planning documents may not require wholesale changes, but an overall estate plan may need to be updated to complement new life goals. A simple Will is not the best option if your retirement goal is to own a vacation home in a different state. Conversely, a large binder holding an antiquated revocable trust that was never funded deserves a second look and a second opinion.
Frequently, people forget what documents they actually have. “I thought we drafted a Power of Attorney when we did our Will?” Nope.
“Health Care Proxy?” Not really.
Or there is an unsigned form in the folder.
This happens too often.
Annual readings will ensure you know what you have and what the documents say. If you are missing necessary documents or have experienced family upheaval, then 2024 will be the year your estate planning turns out alright – at least for a little while.
Alan D. Feller, Esq., is managing partner of The Feller Group, located at 625 Route 6, Mahopac. He can be reached at email@example.com.