Spring Cleaning Your Estate Plan

By Megan Gebhardt, Gebhardt Law Office (Estimated reading time: 3 minutes) 

A couple looking at paperwork together. Image credit: Ketut Subiyanto via Pexels.

Spring is a time of fresh starts. While you’re purging your closets or deep cleaning your kitchen, consider adding estate plan maintenance to your spring-cleaning checklist. Tax season, and the spring, is a convenient annual event that you can use as a reminder to put your house in order. Once a year is a reasonable goal to review your estate plan for what will happen in the event of your death. For my estate planning clients, I recommend that they review their existing wills or Trust, Durable Powers of Attorney, and Health Care Directives, ideally annually, to ensure they are tidy.  

Some estate plan spring cleaning tasks include: 

  • Reviewing the people named in the documents in various roles, such as Personal Representative, Trustee, or Agent in the Durable Power of Attorney to be sure that they are still the best option to serve in that role. People move, relationships shift, health changes, and people mature. The best choice seven years ago may no longer be your best choice now. 
  • How about end of life planning? Watching a family member or friend suffer with a disease like Alzheimer’s or dementia can empower people to set up a dementia directive to help provide guidance to care providers and family about your wishes for care in the stages of the disease in the event you have dementia or Alzheimer’s. A Durable Power of Attorney will ensure that it is easier for a trusted person to manage affairs on your behalf in the event of your incapacity. And a Health Care Directive can make your wishes about artificial life sustaining treatment at the end of life legally enforceable. 
  • Consider your immediate family. Have you added to your family since the last time you updated your documents? Has your marital status changed? Are your children now adults and ready to take on the roles mentioned above? Have you learned that your children might need different legal tools to support their wellbeing, such as a supplemental or special needs trust? Do you have a new partner that needs to be considered?  
  • What about your resources? Did you inherit assets? Has professional success left you with more resources than expected? You’ll want to assess whether your resources changed enough to put you above the $2.2 million Washington Estate Tax exemption amount.  Did you buy or inherit property in another state and need to plan for the easy transfer of that asset at your death, either through a Trust or Transfer on Death Deed?  
  • What about giving? You may get to a point where you can be confident that your family will have enough in the event of your passing, and if so, you may have philanthropic intent you want to include in your estate plan (PEPS for 25k!). Or you may want to expand your reach to include more people in your life, like setting up a plan to fund education for nieces and nephews, or ensuring that your parents are well cared for in the event that they outlive you. You can always set up contingent plans to give in the event your estate exceeds a set amount. Sometimes, as the dust of parenthood settles, parents and guardians find they can direct their attention to crafting elements of their estate plan that support and reflect their family values. Setting up philanthropic gifts in an estate plan can be a very meaningful family exercise. 
  • Don’t forget to update your list of assets and ensure that beneficiary designations and transfer on death designations are up to date. This final step will allow whoever is in charge of administering your estate after your death to identify where your assets are and ensure that they are directed to the correct place. 

Updating your estate planning documents may sound intimidating. But if you make it a consistent part of your spring-cleaning routine, chances are you won’t need to make significant changes every year, and the task will be checked off your list before you know it. Plus, you can rest assured that you’re saving your family lots of headaches down the road by keeping your estate plan up to date.  

Megan Gebhardt

About the Author

Megan Gebhardt, the owner of Gebhardt Law Office,focuses her law practice on Estate Planning. She values the opportunity to work with families and individuals in preparing their estate plans and to be a trusted source of help to these people. Megan is a frequent speaker on the topic of estate planning for PEPS members and other Seattle organizations. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of Junior Achievement and on the Executive Committee of the Valley School Board of Trustees.  Born and raised in Washington, she and her spouse, an Ohio native, reside in Seattle with their two sons and enjoy everything the Pacific Northwest has to offer.   

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