1. Your plan hasn’t been updated to take into account the never-ending Estate Tax changes. Currently a single person can leave up to $5.6 million, and a married couple can leave up to $11.2 million, free of estate tax.  Over the years, the estate tax exemption has gone from $600,000 per individual (in 2000) to its current high levels.  If your estate planning takes into account the estate tax, your documents may very well use the wrong exemption amount or formula.  And if the current exemptions eliminate any estate tax concerns for you, but your documents were set up to avoid the tax, they may create unnecessarily complicated trusts for your family that may no longer be needed.


  1. You want to protect assets from lawsuits against you or your beneficiaries. Although you can’t set up trusts to defraud existing creditors, you can set up your estate to minimize exposure to possible future lawsuits either against you or your beneficiaries.   Florida’s laws provide excellent asset protection without the need to set up offshore trusts or other complicated structures. However, unless your assets are properly titled you will not be able to take advantage of these exemptions.


  1. You don’t want that no-good son-in-law to get his hands on your estate. Most wills and trusts give assets to children when they reach certain ages (1/3 at 25, 1/3 at 30 and 1/3 at 35 is very common.)  However, putting assets directly in the names of the children even at those ages can expose them to divorce judgments and other lawsuits against the child.  Far better is to keep the assets in the trust until the child actually needs the money, giving the child control over the trust but not putting the assets directly in the child’s name. That way the assets are available for the child’s use but protected from third parties.


  1. The people you’ve named as guardian for your children and trustee for your heirs are no longer on your “A List.” Relationships change, people move, they get divorced.  Trustee, executor and guardian designations should be reviewed at least every five years.


  1. You’ve moved to Florida since your estate planning was done. Despite similarities in most states’ estate laws, every state has something different in their rules that warrants a review. Two common differences in Florida: 1) all trusts must be witnessed by two witnesses to be valid; 2) out-of-state residents cannot serve as personal representative/executor of your estate, unless closely related to the decedent; for instance, your brother-in-law cannot be your executor if he lives out-of-state.


  1. You don’t have a revocable living trust. Revocable living trusts avoid court-supervised probate and guardianships. Probate in Florida lasts for a minimum of six months and carries with it hefty percentage fees for personal representatives and attorneys.  Living trusts are even more important if you have out-of-state real estate, which would otherwise require two probates: one in Florida and one in the state where the real property is located.


  1. You don’t want your children to become “trust-fund babies.” Giving your children large lump sums of money can destroy their motivation to be successful (just look at all the lottery winners who have filed for bankruptcy).  Proper planning can encourage education, reward hard work and teach proper charitable giving while preserving your estate for your family’s genuine needs.


  1. Someone in your family has “special needs” or needs “elder planning.” Family members who have mental or physical disabilities, addictions, etc. need special treatment in your estate plan.  For instance, proper planning can make funds available for treatment without giving the beneficiary control over the funds, and can provide for a disabled beneficiary’s needs without disqualifying them from government assistance, such as Medicaid. And if an older family member needs help to qualify for benefits to help pay for a nursing home, assisted living facility or even in-home health care, trusts and other vehicles can allow them to protect some of their hard-earned money for their families.


  1. You haven’t left anything to your church (or other favorite charity). Churches and nonprofits depends on membership donations to survive. When they lose a member, unless the member has specifically mentioned them in their estate planning, the donations come to an abrupt halt. But in many cases a small percentage bequest in the range of 1% to 10% can make a huge difference to how the member’s passing affects the organization, such as creating an endowment, funding a special project or mission, or paying off some debt. 


  1. You don’t have any! Surveys show that most people don’t even have simple wills.  If you do nothing, at least get durable powers of attorney, health care surrogate designations and living wills that can allow family members to handle your affairs if you can’t do so yourself due to accident or injury.  These very simple documents can greatly simplify your financial affairs in the event of your incapacity.