Estate planning: a New Year’s resolution everyone should consider

Stop for a moment, and calculate how much time you spent last month shopping for the perfect holiday gifts and preparing the holiday feast. Now compare that to the amount of time you spent last year thinking about your estate plan.

Bet you spent much more time shopping and cooking. Now that the holidays are over, give some thought to ensuring that you and your family are protected in the future.

For most of us, a will might be the most important legal document that we ever sign. It protects our most important asset, our family. Without a will, the court will decide, based on state law, what happens to your property and who will become the guardian of your minor children.

If the following situations apply to you, this may be the right time to create an estate plan or review the one you have. Perhaps you never executed any estate planning documents, or maybe you have estate plan documents in place, but your situation has changed since signing them. If so, consider the following.

  • You recently married. While your spouse has a legal right to a portion of your estate, do you really want your spouse to have to go to court to get the full amount you always intended for that person to receive?
  • You divorced your spouse. Divorce frequently results in unintended consequences to one’s property and estate. Make sure you know who will inherit your property.
  • You now have children. Not only is a will an opportunity to leave specific assets to your children, but it is also the legal document in which you name a guardian to care for them and their assets in the event of your death.
  • You have children from a previous marriage. Most people leave their assets to their spouses, and then to their children, if the spouse is deceased. In the case of a second marriage, however, if all of your assets go to your new spouse (the stepparent of your children), there is no guarantee that the children from your first marriage will ever see a dime of your estate. If your new spouse also has children from an earlier marriage, those children may inherit your assets, unless you plan otherwise.
  • Your relationships have changed. Perhaps you no longer trust the people you named earlier to administer your estate or to serve as your children’s guardian. Maybe they moved out of the area, making it difficult for them to honor your wishes. Perhaps they are no longer alive. It is important to ensure that the people you want to be in charge in case of your death are properly designated.
  • You no longer want the people named earlier to benefit after your death.
  • You have had a substantial increase or decrease in your assets. Tax laws are constantly changing, so you should make sure that your plan will still function the way you intended.
  • You have moved to a different state. States have different legal requirements for making a will. Make sure yours is still valid.
  • Your estate plan is several years old. It is recommended that you have your estate plan reviewed every 3 to 5 years to ensure that it accurately reflects your wishes.

It’s not too late to make another New Year’s resolution—to protect your family in the event of your death and to make sure your wishes are protected in case you become ill or incapacitated. Don’t put it off for another year!

Rebecca Yingst Price, an estate planning attorney at Gallup & Burns, lives in Cleveland Heights with her husband and 20-month-old daughter. She can be reached at 216-621-4636 or by e-mail at

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Volume 4, Issue 1, Posted 6:16 PM, 12.13.2010