*This post was originally published on www.freewill.com*
The term “spring cleaning” might make you think of thoroughly refreshing your living space from top to bottom. But between fluffing pillows and washing walls, it’s also a great time to review your estate-planning documents!
Estate planning is the process of determining who will receive your assets and manage your estate when you pass away. While it can be uncomfortable to think about, getting your affairs in order now can provide you and your family peace of mind for years to come.
Your estate plan only works for you if it’s up-to-date with your most recent wishes and situation. It’s important to review these documents from time to time to make sure nothing has changed.
Not sure which documents to include in your estate plan? Review our estate planning document checklist to see which documents you need.
Here are 10 steps to get your estate plan in tip-top shape this spring:
Estate attorneys recommend reviewing your will every three to five years, or whenever you have a big life change or event. The older the documents are, the more likely your life situation has changed since you made them. It’s a good idea to review older documents and rewrite them if enough has changed.
Don’t have a will? With FreeWill, you can make and update your will for free.
Estate laws vary by state. A valid will that you create in one state may be accepted in others, but not always. If you’ve moved states since creating your estate-planning documents, it’s a good idea to update them. This will ensure they’re recognized by your new state.
Perhaps you updated your will last year. Do you still have the old copy hanging around in one of your drawers or filing cabinets?
You only need to keep the most recent copy of your will and other documents. Keeping old copies can cause confusion if they’re found after you pass away. If you have old copies, it’s a good idea to shred them. You can also include a line in your will voiding all wills you’ve previously made.
It’s possible your assets have changed significantly since you first drafted your estate plan. Consider these questions:
If you’ve had large changes in your estate, this may prompt you to reconsider how — or to whom — you allocate your assets. For small edits, you could consider adding a codicil to your will. For large edits, you may decide to rewrite your will or other documents entirely.
Your beneficiaries, or heirs, are the people or organizations you want to receive your assets once you pass away. Occasionally, you should review who you’ve chosen as your beneficiaries in your will. Do your selections still accurately reflect your relationships? Here are some questions to consider to help you make these decisions:
If you have large edits to your documents, estate attorneys recommend rewriting them entirely to keep them clear and concise. If you use FreeWill to create your estate-planning documents, you can update them as many times as you want for free.
There are certain accounts — like life insurance policies, IRAs, or retirement plans — that you can name direct beneficiaries for. These are called payable-on-death (POD) accounts. When you die, the beneficiary you’ve named will automatically become the owner of the account, skipping the probate process and saving time.
You can fill out a POD form for each institution where you have eligible assets. Many institutions offer these forms online.
The beneficiaries you name on POD accounts override the beneficiaries you name in your will. For example, if you wrote your ex-spouse out of your will after you got divorced, but left them as the beneficiary on your life insurance policy, they’re entitled to that payout after you die. That’s why it’s important to make sure your POD account beneficiaries are aligned with the wishes you outline in your will.
A living will, also known as an advance healthcare directive, lets you outline your end-of-life healthcare preferences in case you’re unable to communicate them (for example, if you were in a coma). Even if you’re healthy, it’s a good idea to make a living will in case of an accident or sudden illness.
By outlining your healthcare wishes in a living will, you save your family the grief and uncertainty of making medical decisions for you. If you’re interested, you can create a living will for free through FreeWill.
Once you pass away, you’ll rely on several important people to manage your property, carry out the wishes in your last will and testament, and care for your minor children. You want to make sure the people you name for those important tasks are still able and willing to do the job.
Go through your estate plan and review the people you’ve nominated for the following positions. Ask yourself: Is this still the person I want in this role? Are they healthy enough and do they live close enough to be able to fulfill the role well?
Our lives are always changing, and it’s possible that someone you once nominated has moved, passed away, or your relationship has changed. No matter who you choose, be sure to first speak to anyone you want to nominate for one of these roles, so they can be prepared for the responsibility.
Deciding what to do with your digital accounts and assets is also an integral part of the estate planning process. Along with online subscriptions and social media accounts, many important financial assets like bank, investment, and insurance accounts are now online — and all of these will need attention when you pass away.
It’s a good idea to keep a record of login and password information for your important accounts. One way to do this is with a digital vault. This is a secure online platform where you can collect and maintain your digital assets and logins, and share access with the people you trust.
You can also assign a digital executor in your will. This is the person you want to manage your digital property after you die. Many people choose to name their will executor as their digital executor, so a single person has complete responsibility over their estate. Specifying that someone should have access to your digital accounts after you die can make it easier for them to gain access. You’ll just need to make sure they know where to find all of your digital account information, so they can pass them on to the right person or close accounts entirely.
Once you update all your estate-planning documents, you should store them in a secure place. This could be a fireproof safe, desk drawer, or a safe deposit box. Another option is to leave your documents with an attorney for safekeeping. Consider keeping important documents, like deeds and titles, with your estate plan. If you can’t find these documents, you can typically order replacement copies from the relevant government office.
Wherever you choose to store your documents, be sure to let your will executor know where they are. This will make it easy for them to find your documents once you pass away, and begin the distribution of your estate.
Doing a quick spring-clean of your estate-planning documents can give you peace of mind for the rest of the year. If you know you need an estate plan but aren’t sure where to start, you can learn more in our estate planning 101 guide.
For more information, reach out to Lisa Groves, JD, Director, Major & Planned Gifts, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-377-5801.