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Make sure your estate plan keeps up with life changes, experts say

Update your documents, such as wills and life insurance policies, to reflect births, divorce and other developments.

Ideally, estate planning will make things easier for

Ideally, estate planning will make things easier for your heirs at a time when they most need it. Photo Credit: Getty Images

Few things are as important as estate planning. If you don’t handle your business while you’re alive, the ramifications can run deep and wide long after you’re gone.

Estate planning may seem daunting because it deals with issues of aging. Or maybe you think estate planning is only something folks like Bill Gates do. It’s for everybody. Resolve to do it, and to avoid consequential fumbles.

Here’s how.

What’s an estate plan? Think of estate planning as a set of legal documents that spell out who gets your assets when you die, who you want to make medical decisions, who should make financial decisions on your behalf, and more. Ideally, it will make things easier for your heirs at a time when they most need it.

This is not a one-shot deal. It’s great that you finally got your will done, have your medical directives in place, and gave someone power of attorney. But, you’re hardly finished. Life happens. Your documents should keep pace with change.

“Remember to update contingent [secondary] beneficiaries on life insurance policies after the first spouse dies,” says Martin Levine, chief financial officer for 4Thought Financial Group in Syosset.

The birth of a child and divorce are other life events that will require updating estate planning documents.

Get help. This is one time when DIY probably isn’t a good idea. Talk to a financial adviser, preferably one with expertise in estate planning.

Make no assumptions. Don’t assume that establishing joint tenancy (sharing ownership in personal property, such as a home) or joint ownership over financial accounts is enough to protect your assets.

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