There are lots of reasons to consider an estate plan review each year. In addition to taking the opportunity to review any life-event changes you've experienced, an annual plan review can make sure that your plan is optimized for any changes that have taken place in the law. New laws may have opened doors to new opportunities, or trap doors to new pitfalls. A thorough review can make sure that your plan is working at its best in light of any new estate planning laws your state may have.
There are lots of reasons to consider getting an estate plan “check-up” in the first quarter of a new year. People use the changing calendar to engage in many resolutions, including ones related to getting organized and better caring for themselves and their loved ones. And, what better way to get organized and to best care for yourself and your loved ones than to ensure that your estate plan is still in tip-top shape, right? This is all definitely true, but there is also another reason to use the early months of a new year to get an estate plan review: changes in the law. January 1 is a common date for new statutes to take effect, and some of those statutes may offer you new estate planning opportunities.
Many aspects of the law have changed recently as a reflection of changing culture. Same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. This matters in many ways, including estate planning. As author Angela D. Giampolo recently pointed out in The Legal Intelligencer: “There are 1,138 identified federal statutes in which marital status is a factor in receiving federal benefits, rights and privileges.” Another legal shift that has followed a cultural shift is that more and more states' laws are catching up to the modern relationship that many people have with their households pets, where the pet is seen less as merely a piece of property and more as a beloved and vital part of the family. Pet trusts and estate planning for pets are recognized in more states than ever before.
Other legal changes have taken place independent of any social/cutlural shifts. The number of states that recognize transfer-on-death (TOD) deeds, for example, has nearly doubled in the last few years. That's because, in 2009, a group called the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws drafted the Uniform Real Property Transfer on Death Act. This spurred many states into action. Just over a dozen states recognized TOD deeds in 2009. Today, two dozen states plus D.C. have laws giving these deeds recognition.
In addition to these changes, there are also the alterations that take place after each legislative session. Each state's legislative body considers numerous bills every session, and passes many of them. Some of those relate to estate planning. These changes may require your plan to undergo no changes. But, sometimes, the changes in the law do dictate that you should consider altering your plan. These alterations may be needed to take advantage of new opportunities and benefits that have only now come available thanks to the new changes in the law. On the other hand, your plan may need changes to avoid new pitfalls that the changed laws have created for plans like yours.
It's somewhat like income taxes. Each year, there are new changes to the laws and regulations governing income tax returns. Sometimes, they're big. Other times, they're very small. Regardless, you want to make sure that your accountant or tax preparer is creating your return using the latest rules. The same goes for estate planning. A thorough checkup can make sure that your plan has been analyzed, and optimized, for the current state of law.