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Category: Guardian

Preparing to meet with an estate planning attorney

Preparing to meet with an Estate Planning Attorney

Preparing to meet with an estate planning attorney for the first time is an opportunity to get organized and think about your wishes for the future. If you meet with your accountant every year to prepare tax returns, this may be a familiar process. It’s a chance to step away from day-to-day activities and focus on your life, as described in a recent article “10 Items to Consider Before Meeting Your Attorney” from The National Law Journal.

Minor Children Need Guardians and Conservators. In most states, families with minor children need a last will to designate one or more guardians to raise the children in the event both parents die. A successor should be named in case the first named guardian is unable or unwilling to serve. Discuss your decision with the people you are naming; don’t leave this as a surprise. Choosing these people is a hard decision. However, don’t let it be a reason to delay creating your estate plan. It’s better that you name a guardian, rather than let the court make that decision. Your estate planning attorney will be able to guide you through this decision.

Agents, Trustees, and Power of Attorney. With a Durable Power of Attorney, your assets can be managed by a named agent, if you become incapacitated. The person who manages your estate after death is the executor. They are named in your last will. If you have trusts, the documents that create the trust also name the trustees. It is possible for one person to act as a fiduciary for all of these roles, although the tasks can be divided.

Living Will and Patient Advocate Designation. If you are incapacitated, a Patient Advocate can make medical decisions on your behalf, including following the instructions of your Living Will.

Personal Property. Any items of personal property, whether their value is sentimental or monetary, should be specified in the will. A list of items and who you want to receive what, may spare your heirs from squabbles over your personal effects, large or small. If you own a business or real estate, they also need to be addressed in your will.

Charitable Donations. If you are charitably minded, your will is one way to make bequests and build a lasting legacy. Charitable donations can also be made to gain tax benefits for heirs.

Beneficiary Distributions. The beneficiary designation is the unsung hero of the estate plan. By managing beneficiary designations while you are living—updating beneficiary designations, assigning beneficiary designations to all accounts possible—you take assets out of your probate estate and smooth the asset distribution process. However, there are some wrinkles to consider.

Minor children may not receive assets until they become of age—18 in most cases. Do you want your children (or nieces or grandchildren) to receive an inheritance, while they are still in their teens? Proper estate planning includes trusts created, so a responsible adult can manage the trust on their behalf. Your trust can also be structured so the money may only be used for college expenses, or when the children reach certain ages. An estate planning attorney will assist you in how best to structure a trust.

Surviving Pets. You can plan for your pet’s care, if you pass away or become incapacitated before they die. Most states permit the creation of a pet trust, an enforceable means of providing assets to be used for the care and well-being of your pet.

Preparing to meet with an estate planning attorney can be a daunting task, but addressing these issues will give you a head start. Your estate planning attorney will be able to provide you with a list of the documents she will need to get started on your estate plan, but these are the major issues that you will be discussing at your first meeting.

If you would like to learn more about preparing for estate planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The National Law Journal (Feb. 23, 2021) “10 Items to Consider Before Meeting Your Attorney”

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Understanding the responsibilities of the conservator

If you have been named a conservator, or have been approached by a family member about the role, it is vital that you are understanding the responsibilities of the conservator. A conservator is appointed by a judge. This person handles the estate of an incapacitated adult, as well as their finances, their basic affairs and everyday care. Administrative matters such as Medicare, insurance, pensions, and medical coverage are all also managed by the conservator. The conservator must keep meticulous records that are subject to review by the judge.

The Advocate’s recent article entitled “Alzheimer’s Q&A: What is adult guardianship?” explains that a conservatorship typically lasts as long as the individual lives. The conservator may change because of death, relocation, or an inability to manage the conservator duties and responsibilities. A judge also has the power to replace the conservator, if he or she is repeatedly making poor decisions or neglecting required responsibilities.

A conservator can be wise in some situations because it lets family members know that someone is making the decisions. It also provides clear legal authority to deal with third parties. There is also a process in which a judge will approve any major decisions. However, appointing a conservator can be expensive. An experienced estate planning or elder law attorney must complete court paperwork and attend court hearings. A conservatorship can also be time-consuming due to the required ongoing paperwork.

A big question is when it is appropriate to seek conservatorship. If the individual has become mentally or physically incapable of making important decisions for himself or herself, then it would be smart to have a court-appointed guardian. Moreover, if the person does not already have legal documents in place, like a living will or power of attorney, then the conservatorship would benefit in covering decisions about personal and financial matters.

Even if the individual has a power of attorney for both health care and finances, he or she might need a conservator to make decisions about his or her personal life. This can include topics, such as living arrangements and who is allowed to visit. It is not always easy to determine if an individual can make decisions, but a judge understands that a conservator is viable for those with advanced Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

Families that want to set up a conservatorship need to file formal legal papers and participate in a court hearing before a judge. Evidence of the physical and mental condition of the individual requiring conservatorship must be clearly presented. The person who is the subject of the conservatorship has the opportunity to contest it. Ask an experienced estate planning or elder law attorney who specializes in conservatorships to provide you a complete understanding of the responsibilities of the conservator.

If you would like to learn more about conservatorship and guardianship, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The Advocate (Jan. 25, 2021) “Alzheimer’s Q&A: What is adult guardianship?”

 

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The Difference between Power of Attorney and Guardianship

The difference between power of attorney and guardianship is in the level of decision-making power, although there are many intricacies specific to each appointment, explains Presswire’s recent article entitled “Power of Attorney and Guardianship of an Elderly Parent.”

The interactions with adult protective services, the probate court, elder law attorneys and healthcare providers can create a huge task for an agent under a power of attorney or court-appointed guardian. Children acting as agents or guardians are surprised about the degree of interference by family members who disagree with decisions.

Doctors and healthcare providers don’t always recognize the decision-making power of an agent or guardian. Guardians or agents may find themselves fighting the healthcare system because of the difference between legal capacity and medical or clinical capacity.

A family caregiver accepts a legal appointment to provide or oversee care. An agent under power of attorney isn’t appointed to do what he or she wishes. The agent must fulfill the wishes of the principal. In addition, court-appointed guardians are required to deliver regular reports to the court detailing the activities they have completed for elderly parents. Both roles must work in the best interest of the parent.

Some popular misperceptions about power of attorney and guardianship of a parent include:

  • An agent under power of attorney can make decisions that go against the wishes of the principal
  • An agent can’t be removed or fired by the principal for abuse
  • Adult protective services assumes control of family matters and gives power to the government; and
  • Guardians have a responsibility to save money for care, so family members can receive an inheritance.

Those who have a financial interest in inheritance can be upset when an agent under a power of attorney or a court-appointed guardian is appointed. Agents and guardians must make sure of the proper care for an elderly parent. A potential inheritance may be totally spent over time on care.

In truth, the objective isn’t to conserve money for family inheritances, if saving money means that a parent’s care will be in jeopardy.

Adult protective services workers will also look into cases to make certain that vulnerable elderly persons are protected—including being protected from irresponsible family members. In addition, a family member serving as an agent or family court-appointed guardian can be removed, if actions are harmful.

Agents under a medical power of attorney and court-appointed guardians have a duty to go beyond normal efforts in caring for an elderly parent or adult. They must understand the aspects of the health conditions and daily needs of the parent, as well as learning advocacy and other skills to ensure that the care provided is appropriate.

Ask an experienced elder law attorney for help understanding the difference between power of attorney and guardianship. Explain your family’s situation and your need for power of attorney documents with a provision for guardianship. If you would like to learn more about guardianship, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Presswire (Jan. 14, 2021) “Power of Attorney and Guardianship of an Elderly Parent”

 

steps to take when diagnosed with Alzheimer's?

Steps to Take when Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or any serious progressive disease takes some time to absorb. What are the steps to take when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? During the days and weeks after the diagnosis, it is important to take quick steps to protect the person’s health as well as their legal and financial lives, advises the recent article “What to do after an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis?” from The Indiana Lawyer.

Here are the legal steps that need to be taken when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, before the person is too incapacitated to legally conduct their own affairs:

General Durable Power of Attorney—A person needs to be appointed to perform legal and financial duties when the time comes. This can be a family member, trusted friend or a professional.

Health Care Power of Attorney—A person must be entrusted with making health care decisions, when the patient is no longer able to communicate their wishes.

HIPAA Authorization—Without this document, medical care providers will not be able to discuss the person’s illness or share reports and test results. An authorized person will be able to speak with doctors, pick up prescriptions and obtain medical reports. It is not a decision-making authorization, however.

Living Will—The living will explains wishes for end-of-life medical care, including whether to prolong life using artificial means.

Funeral Plans—Some states permit the creation of a legally enforceable document stating wishes for funerals, burials or cremation and memorial services. If a legal document is not permitted, then it is a kindness to survivors to state wishes, and be as specific as possible, to alleviate the family’s stress about what their loved one would have wanted.

Medicaid Planning—Care for Alzheimer’s and other dementias becomes extremely costly in the late stages. A meeting with an elder law attorney is important to see if the family’s assets can be protected, while obtaining benefits to pay for long-term and dementia care.

After the patient dies, there may be a claim against it from the state to recover Medicaid costs. By law, states must recover assets for long-term care and related drug and hospital benefits. All assets in the recipient’s probate estate are subject to recovery, except if surviving spouse, minor children, blind or disabled child is living or where recovery would cause hardship.

These are just a few steps to take when diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. With good planning and the help of an experienced elder law attorney, the family may be able to mitigate claims by the government against the estate.

If you would like to learn more about Alzheimer’s disease, and other forms of dementia, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The Indiana Lawyer (Jan. 6, 2020) “What to do after an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis?”

 

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What are the Steps to Take when Dementia Begins

Covid-19 has made travelling more difficult, so holiday visits this year may not be the same triggering event they were in the past. However, even an online holiday visit can reveal a great deal of change, reports a recent article “Elder Care: When the children don’t notice” from The Sentinel. What are the steps to take when dementia begins?

An elderly spouse caring for another elderly spouse may not notice that their loved one’s needs have increased. Caregiving may have started as the spouse needing a reminder to take a shower on a regular basis. As dementia begins, the spouse may not be able to shower by themselves.

This quickly becomes exhausting and unsafe. If one spouse suddenly does not recognize the other and perceives their spouse as an intruder, a dangerous situation may occur, repeatedly. It’s time to discuss this with the children, if they are not available to notice this decline in person.

People are often reluctant to tell out-of-town children about this problem because they don’t want the added stress of having the children come to the rescue and making decisions that may be overwhelming. The children may also think they can come out for a visit and fix everything in the space of a few days. It’s not an easy situation for anyone.

A first step to take, especially when early-stage dementia begins, is to get an estate plan in place immediately, while the person still has the capacity to sign legal documents. Anyone who is old enough for Medicare (and anyone else, for that matter) needs to have an updated last will and testament, durable financial power of attorney for financial matters and a health care power of attorney, including a living will.

The financial power of attorney document will be the most practical because the family will be able to access financial accounts and make decisions without having to petition the court to appoint a guardian. A professional guardian might be appointed, which is extremely expensive and there have been situations where the professional guardian makes decisions the family does not want. A family member who can act under the power of attorney may be a much better solution for all concerned.

Speak with your estate planning attorney to be sure the POA permits wealth preservation. If it contains the phrase “limited gifting,” you want to discuss this and likely change it. You should also be sure that there is a secondary and even a third backup agent, in case there are any issues with the people named as POA.

Spouses typically have wills that leave everything to their spouse, and then equally among their children, if the spouse dies first. However, what if your spouse is in a nursing home when you die? The cost of nursing home care can quickly exhaust all funds. If any family member is receiving government benefits and then inherits directly, they could lose important government benefits. These are all matters to discuss with your estate planning attorney.

Have a conversation with your children about your healthcare advance directive. It’s not an easy conversation, but when the children know what their parents want concerning end-of-life care decisions, it relieves an enormous burden for all. Get specific—do you want a feeding tube to keep you alive? What about if the only thing keeping them alive is a heart-lung machine? Better to have these conversations now, than in the hospital when emotions are running high.

Another important step to take when dementia begins is the HIPAA release. This permits healthcare providers to discuss and share information about your loved one’s medical care. Without it, even close family members are not legally permitted to be part of the conversation about health care, lab test results, etc.

If you would like to learn more about dementia and other elder care issues, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Sentinel (Dec. 11, 2020) “Elder Care: When the children don’t notice”

 

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How Does Guardianship Work?

For the most part, we are free to make our own decisions regarding how we live, where we live, how we spend our money and even with whom we socialize. However, when we are no longer capable of caring for ourselves, most commonly due to advancing age or dementia, or if an accident or illness occurs and we can’t manage our affairs, it may be necessary to seek a guardianship, as explained in the recent article “Legal Corner: A guardian can be a helpful tool in cases of incapacity” from The Westerly Sun. A guardianship is also necessary for the care of a child or adult with special needs. So how does guardianship work?

If no proper estate planning has been done and no one has been given power of attorney or health care power of attorney, a guardianship may be necessary. This is a legal relationship where one person, ideally a responsible, capable and caring person known as a guardian, is given the legal power to manage the needs of a ward, the person who cannot manage their own affairs. This is usually supported through a court process, requires a medical assessment and comes before the probate court for a hearing.

Once the guardian is qualified and appointed by the court, they have the authority to oversee everything about the ward’s life. They have power over the ward’s money and how it is spent, health care decisions, residential issues and even with whom the ward spends time. At its essence, a guardianship is akin to a parent-child relationship.

Guardianships can be tailored by the court to meet the specific needs of the ward in each case, with the guardian’s powers either limited or expanded, as needed and as appropriate.

The guardian must report to the court on a yearly basis about the ward’s health and health care and file an annual accounting of what has been done with the ward’s money and how much money remains. The court supervision is intended to protect the ward from mismanagement of their finances and ensure that the guardianship is still needed and maintained on an annual basis.

The relationship between the ward and the guardian is often a close one and can continue for many years. The guardianship ends upon the death of the ward, the resignation or removal of the guardian, or in cases of temporary illness or incapacity, when the ward recovers and is once again able to handle their own affairs and make health care decisions on their own.

If and when an elderly family member can no longer manage their own lives, guardianship is a way to step in and care for them, if no prior estate planning has been done. It is preferable for an estate plan to be created and for powers of attorney be created, but in its absence, this is an option.

If you would like to learn more about guardianships, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: The Westerly Sun (Sep. 19, 2020) “Legal Corner: A guardian can be a helpful tool in cases of incapacity”

 

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Adult Guardianship and Autistic Children

For parents of autistic children, the coming of an 18th birthday is the time when hard decisions need to be made regarding adult guardianship. It allows parents to continue to make important decisions for their child, but it does severely limit the child’s rights and freedoms. State laws often require that less restrictive alternatives be considered before a guardianship is ordered, says the article “Adulthood And Autism: A Crossroads In Life” from Autism Key.com.

An adult guardianship is a court proceeding that appoints another person to make decisions about a person’s health, safety, support, care and residence. The procedure varies from state to state.  However, the process generally starts with an interested party filing a petition, with the court stating why guardianship for the person, known as the “ward,” is necessary. The person who has filed for guardianship and others, including parents, spouses, or relatives, all receive a copy of the petition. An independent evaluator assesses the ward and reports on their capacity. There is a hearing and the court determines whether guardianship is needed. The ward has the right to hire counsel, or the court can provide counsel.

Once the guardian is appointed, the court may limit or completely terminate the ward’s ability to make decisions regarding medical treatment, where they live and other important decisions. The guardian is required to make decisions that are always in the best interest of their ward and to encourage the ward to participate in decisions. A report must be filed with the court every year to advise of the ward’s status.

Most states have a law known as the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act, which makes it easier for states to transfer guardianship from one state to another, if the person moves. Florida, Kansas, Texas and Michigan do not have this law.

Adult Guardianship is an emotional decision for parents to make. They want their autistic child to be protected, at the same time they hope their child can reach a certain level of independence, within the limits of their capacity.

An individual facing a guardianship petition has the right to an attorney and in some states, that attorney must advocate for the best interest of the person, which may be to have more independence.

A case involving a young woman with Down’s Syndrome named Jenny Hatch in 2013 led to changes in guardianship proceedings. Jenny was a high school graduate, worked at a thrift shop and volunteered in local political campaigns. At her parent’s request, a court put her into temporary guardianship and placed her in a group home, where her cell phone and laptop were taken away. She was not permitted to socialize with friends or go to work. After a year of litigation, she won the right to make her own decisions through Supported Decision-Making, a process in which a team of allies help the disabled to make key decisions about their life. Jenny became a national hero for the rights of the disabled and speaks publicly about her experience. A number of states now have Supported Decision-Making laws to give the disabled freedom, while providing them with a network of support.

There is a lot of information to consider as a parent facing the prospect of an ASD child becoming a legal adult. Each person has his or her own strengths and challenges. Review the laws of your state to consider what options there may be, in addition to guardianship.

If you would like to learn more about adult guardianship and other issues related to autism, please read our previous posts. 

Reference: Autism Key.com (July 28, 2020) “Guardianship And Autism: A Crossroads In Life”

 

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Business Owners Need Estate Plans

Do you need an estate plan? If you have children, ownership shares in a business, or even in more than one business, a desire to protect your family and business if you became disabled, or charitable giving goals, then you need an estate plan. The recent article “Estate planning for business owners and executives” from The Wealth Advisor explains why business owners and executives need estate plans.

An estate plan is more than a way to distribute wealth. It can also:

  • Establish a Power of Attorney, if you can’t make decisions due to an illness or injury.
  • Identify a guardianship plan for minor children, naming a caregiver of your choice.
  • Ensure that assets are controlled through beneficiary designations rather than simply through a will and pass privately when owned through trusts. This includes retirement plans, life insurance, annuities and some jointly owned property.
  • Create trusts for beneficiaries who are younger, disabled, or others you feel need some kind of protection.
  • Identify professional management for assets in those trusts.
  • Minimize taxes and maximize privacy through the use of planning techniques.
  • Create a structure for your philanthropic goals.

An estate plan ensures that fiduciaries are identified to oversee and distribute assets as you want. Business owners, in particular, need estate plans to manage ownership assets, which requires more sophisticated planning. Ideally, you have a management and ownership succession plan for your business, and both should be well-documented and integrated with your overall estate plan.

Some business owners choose to separate their Power of Attorney documents, so one person or more who know their business well, as well as the POA holder or co-POA, are able to make decisions about the business, while family members are appointed POA for non-business decisions.

Depending on how your business is structured, the post-death transfer of the business may need to be a part of your estate plan. A current buy-sell agreement may be needed, especially if there are more than two owners of the business.

An estate plan, like a succession plan, is not a set-it-and-forget it document. Regular reviews will ensure that any changes are documented, from the size of your overall estate to the people you choose to make key decisions.

Reference: The Wealth Advisor (July 28, 2020) “Estate planning for business owners and executives”

 

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Perfect Storm for the Financial Abuse of Seniors

The extended isolation and loneliness during the coronavirus pandemic is creating the perfect storm for the financial abuse of seniors, who are unable to visit with family members and friends, reports Fredericksburg Today in the article “SCC urges awareness of investment fraud among seniors due to increased pandemic isolation.” The unprecedented need to forgo socializing makes seniors who are already at risk, even more vulnerable.

In the past, scammers would deliberately strike during a health crisis or after the death of a loved one. By gathering data from obituaries and social media, even establishing relationships with support and social groups, scammers can work their way into seniors’ lives.

Social distancing and the isolation necessary to protect against the spread of the coronavirus has left many seniors vulnerable to people posing as their new friends. The perpetrators may not just be strangers: family members are often the ones who exploit the elderly. The pandemic has also led to changes in procedures in care facilities, which can lead to increased confusion and dependence for the elderly, who do not always do well with changes.

Here are a few key markers for senior financial abuse:

  • A new friend or caregiver who is overly protective and has gotten the person to surrender control of various aspects of their life, including but not limited to finances.
  • Fear or a sudden change in how they feel towards family members and/or friends.
  • A reluctance to discuss financial matters, especially if they say the new friend told them not to talk about their money with others.
  • Sudden changes in spending habits, or unexplained changes to wills, new trustees, or changes to beneficiary designations.
  • Large checks made out to cash, or the disappearance of assets.
  • Signatures on checks or estate planning documents that appear different than past signatures.

Not being able to visit in person makes it harder for family members to discern what is happening.  However, there are a few steps that can be taken by concerned family members. Stay in touch with the family member, by phone, video calls, texts or any means possible. Remind loved ones that scammers are always looking for an opportunity and may try to exploit them during the pandemic.

Every community has resources that can help, if senior financial abuse is a concern. An elder law estate planning attorney will be able to direct concerned family members or friends to local resources to protect their loved ones.

Reference: Fredericksburg Today (June 20, 2020) “SCC urges awareness of investment fraud among seniors due to increased pandemic isolation”

 

 

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Times In Life When Wills Need To Be Reviewed

There are times in life when wills need to be reviewed. Estate planning lawyers hear it all the time—people meaning to update their will, but somehow never getting around to actually getting it done. The only group larger than the ones who mean to “someday,” are the ones who don’t think they ever need to update their documents, says the article “12 Different Times When You Should Update Your Will” from Kiplinger. The problems become abundantly clear when people die, and survivors learn that their will is so out-of-date that it creates a world of problems for a grieving family.

There are some wills that do stand the test of time, but they are far and few between. Families undergo all kinds of changes, and those changes should be reflected in the will. Here are one dozen times in life when wills need to be reviewed:

Welcoming a child to the family. The focus is on naming a guardian and a trustee to oversee their finances. The will should be flexible to accommodate additional children in the future.

Divorce is a possibility. Don’t wait until the divorce is underway to make changes. Do it beforehand. If you die before the divorce is finalized, your spouse will have marital rights to your property. Once you file for divorce, in many states you are not permitted to change your will, until the divorce is finalized. Make no moves here, however, without the advice of your attorney.

Your divorce has been finalized. If you didn’t do it before, update your will now. Don’t neglect updating beneficiaries on life insurance and any other accounts that may have named your ex as a beneficiary.

When your child(ren) marry. You may be able to mitigate the lack of a prenuptial agreement, by creating trusts in your will, so anything you leave your child won’t be considered a marital asset, if his or her marriage goes south.

Your beneficiary has problems with drugs or money. Money left directly to a beneficiary is at risk of being attached by creditors or dissolving into a drug habit. Updating your will to includes trusts that allow a trustee to only distribute funds under optimal circumstances protects your beneficiary and their inheritance.

Named executor or beneficiary dies. Your old will may have a contingency plan for what should happen if a beneficiary or executor dies, but you should probably revisit the plan. If a named executor dies and you don’t update the will, then what happens if the second executor dies?

A young family member grows up. Most people name a parent as their executor, then a spouse or trusted sibling. Two or three decades go by. An adult child may now be ready to take on the task of handling your estate.

New laws go into effect. In recent months, there have been many big changes to the law that impact estate planning, from the SECURE Act to the CARES act. Ask your estate planning attorney every few years, if there have been new laws that are relevant to your estate plan.

An inheritance or a windfall. If you come into a significant amount of money, your tax liability changes. You’ll want to update your will, so you can do efficient tax planning as part of your estate plan.

Can’t find your will? If you can’t find the original will, then you need a new will. Your estate planning attorney will make sure that your new will has language that states revokes all prior wills.

Buying property in another country or moving to another country. Some countries have reciprocity with America. However, transferring property to an heir in one country may be delayed, if the will needs to be probated in another country. Ask your estate planning attorney, if you need wills for each country in which you own property.

Family and friends are enemies. Friends have no rights when it comes to your estate plan. Therefore, if families and friends are fighting, the family member will win. If you suspect that your family may push back to any bequests to friends, consider adding a “No Contest” clause to disinherit family members who try to elbow your friends out of the estate.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 26, 2020) “12 Different Times When You Should Update Your Will”