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Warmest regards: Do you have an updated estate plan?

One question that sometimes arises for parents doing an estate plan is whether or not adult children should inherit equally.

For many parents, the answer to that question is of course, adult children should inherit equally.

Not so fast. That answer might turn out to be no in some circumstances.

If one adult child is financially set in life while the other is constantly struggling to get by, some parents might try to equalize things by leaving more of their assets to the one in need. They reason if the other adult child is well-set, there is no problem in not leaving their money to the fortunate one.

Peggy and Morris are one couple that debated that issue for years. With twin daughters, they tried to treat the girls exactly the same. When they were young the girls were dressed alike and the parents made sure they were treated exactly the same.

In later years when one twin married a successful career man, that twin had much of everything.

Her sister, on the other hand, worked for a nonprofit that couldn’t offer much money. Unmarried, it was always a financial struggle for her to get by. When Peggy and Morris went to an estate planner to go over their will, he questioned why they were debating leaving the money in their estate only to the daughter with constant financial struggles.

How do you know your married daughter will never have to face money problems, he asked. If illness or divorce took the twin’s husband out of the picture, could the parents be sure their daughter would not need part of the inheritance? There is much to consider.

Christine Hower said part of her job as an estate planner is to help parents look ahead to what could be changing circumstances.

“Ultimately, the parent may still think it’s best to leave their money to the struggling daughter. It’s their decision. My job is to point out possible scenarios so my clients can give full consideration to their eventual decision,” she said.

She noted that sometimes wills are made when there is a rift between parents and one adult child.

“I’ve had one recent case where parents eliminated an adult son from their will because they were estranged when the will was created. They died 11 years after making the will that excluded their son.

Much had changed during those 11 years and the parents were again close to him. But they forgot to update their old will.

“It was like a final slap in the face for the son,” said the estate planner.

She stressed what that story illustrates is that a financial plan and a will should periodically be updated.

“That’s especially true with life-changing events,” she said. A death, divorce or other changing circumstances will most likely necessitate a new will,” she said.

As a bank executive, one who frequently deals with settling estates, she said all too often she sees wills that weren’t properly updated.

“My job is to examine all estate documents to make sure they are up to date. You would be surprised at the number of people who forget to update their beneficiary information,” she said.

In one recent case, a man who was previously married neglected to update his beneficiary after the divorce.

His life insurance still listed his first wife as beneficiary, much to the dismay of his present wife and their children.

The bottom line: Check your beneficiaries to make sure they are current.

A very good friend of mine got an unexpected bonanza from her first husband even though there was great bitterness between them and they hadn’t talked for over a decade. She didn’t even know he had passed away until six months later. Neither she nor their four children were notified.

On a whim, my friend called the insurance company she knew carried her husband’s policy, asking about the beneficiary.

Her hunch paid off. Her ex-husband had never gotten around to updating his important papers.

It proved to be an unexpected but badly needed windfall, enabling her to finally quit her difficult job.

By now you may be saying, come on. How can so many people make that simple mistake?

My question for you is do you have an up-to-date estate plan and will? That question was asked at an estate planning seminar I covered for the newspaper. A few in the class said they were there because they were just getting around to it.

I have one friend who has been saying for 10 years that she needs to update her will. I’m afraid if she keeps postponing that important task to “someday,” it may be too late.

Quite a few of these seminars are offered free of charge by financial institutions or senior citizen centers.

I often attend the free seminars and learn something new every time. Be on the lookout for a seminar in your area.

Your heirs will thank you if you made an extra effort to leave behind updated financial papers that are the way you wanted.

If you want to leave certain possessions to various people, put it in writing and keep it with your will. It may prevent hard feelings after you’re gone.

It’s so true that we can’t control anything from the grave. But we can do it ahead of time.

Contact Pattie Mihalik at newsgirl@comcast.net.