To Do Before Summer: Review Your Estate Plan

By Susan M. Green, Esquire

It’s that time of year again – vacation season!  The pre-vacation To Do list keeps getting longer and longer: pack a swimsuit, stop the mail for the week, ask neighbors to water the flowers, set up transportation to the airport.  But before you leave for some fun in the sun, add one more item to your To Do list — review your estate plan.  Sometimes we become so busy getting ready for relaxation and family time that we overlook the reality that with increased travel comes increased risk. Unfortunately, travel accidents occur every day, and it would be remiss to neglect to ensure that your affairs are in order before leaving for your trip.

Parents of Minor Children

It is essential that couples with young children have estate plans in place to deal with the unlikely, but possible, scenario that both parents pass away, leaving their children orphaned.

Name preferred guardians.

In your will, you have the opportunity to name the individuals whom you would wish to act as a legal guardian of your child(ren) in the event that you and your spouse have both passed away.  It is important to note that naming someone does not guarantee that the individual will definitely act as guardian of your child(ren).  That individual must accept the guardianship.  Further, a court has the authority to name another individual if there is an appropriate reason to do so.

Create trusts for minors’ inheritances.

A second important action for parents of minors is to provide in their wills that any inheritance received by a minor be held in trust.  The parents must also choose and name a trustee to administer these funds until the child reaches a specified age.  An individual or a corporate trustee may be named; however, many corporate trustees will refuse to accept trusteeship of trust funds under certain amounts.

Successor Executors and Trustees

Many people, whether or not they have minor children, will name only one executor, typically a spouse.  It is essential to name successor executors because it is nearly inevitable that one spouse will predecease the other. Once the surviving spouse passes away, someone must be named to administer that estate.  Further, a successor executor must be in place in case the primary executor, while still alive, becomes incapacitated or unable to fulfill his or her executorial duties.  We typically recommend naming at least two successor executors to provide for these contingencies.

As noted previously, when setting up a trust, it is essential to name a trustee.  As with executors, it is necessary to name one or more successor trustees.

Advance Directives and Powers of Attorney

Before leaving for summer vacation, you should also make sure that your advance directives and powers of attorney are up to date.  These documents operate while you are still alive, but you are incapacitated and unable to make your own decisions.  In the advance directive, you should clarify your preferences for the provision or withdraw of life-sustaining treatment.  In the healthcare power of attorney and general durable power of attorney, you should name an agent, as well as successor agents, to act in your stead if you are unable to do so.

Update Existing Documents

Even if you already have documents in place, review them.  Circumstances change.  Children and grandchildren are born, elderly relatives pass away, or individuals may develop disabilities. You may have purchased a vacation home in another state or received a large inheritance.  All of these life changes, as well as changes in laws, affect your estate plan.  Documents ought to be reviewed annually to ensure that everything is in order… then, it’s time to enjoy that vacation!

Susan M. Green is a New Jersey estate planning attorney with The Begley Law Group. To contact a New Jersey estate planning, special needs planning, or elder law attorney, call 1.800.533.7227 or visit