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Update, Update, Update Your Estate Plan!

Accidental disinheritance is a growing problem, not only in San Diego, but across the country. We have seen it in the cases of Anna Nicole Smith and Heath Ledger. Failure to update estate planning documents or beneficiary designations can cause unintended disinheritance or unequal distributions that may not have been intended.

One of the ways people accidentally cause a disinheritance is in a stepparent situation. As an example, suppose a man has a will he created when married to the mother of his children. After she dies, he remarries and writes a new will leaving everything to his new wife. When he dies, the new wife inherits everything and then leaves her estate to her own children. The husband’s children (her stepchildren) are disinherited, which was probably not the father’s intent. The way to avoid this was to have a trust set up with the new wife which could have provided that his wife had the use of the assets during her lifetime but upon her death, the husband’s children participated in the distributions. This is a situation where an experienced estate planning lawyer would have been worth the expense to draft an appropriate will or trust to take into consideration possible future scenarios.

Another way that a failure to update can cause difficulties is where a child is born after the estate plan is created and the child has special needs. A trust, if drafted correctly, usually will provide for after born children without the necessity to update the trust, however, if a child born after the trust is created has special needs and is on public assistance, a special needs trust needs to be prepared so if the parents die, the child does not receive his inheritance outright and lose his public assistance.

Another potential unintended result can occur when upon death, there are outdated beneficiary designations. Suppose a wife has made her husband the beneficiary of her life insurance policy. They divorce but she fails to remove him as a beneficiary. When she dies, the ex-husband gets the proceeds which may not have been what the wife wanted. Also if someone names a beneficiary on their life insurance policy and the beneficiary dies before the insured, the life insurance proceeds will have to be distributed through probate as there are no alternate beneficiaries listed.

There are countless other ways that failure to update your will, trust, or beneficiary designation can thwart your wishes upon your death. It is always a good idea to review your estate planning documents periodically to make sure they are up to date. If you need assistance, contact us for a complimentary consultation.

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