estate planning milestones

Important Milestones to Incorporate in Your Estate Plan

Jennifer Short Dec. 20, 2022

Life is full of uncertainties, and this uncertainty can create estate planning challenges. Life changes quickly and sometimes unexpectedly. So, your estate plan needs to be flexible.

You can make changes to your estate plan when you're still alive, but when you pass away, your plan is pretty much set in stone. Incorporating milestones into your estate plan is one way to hedge against the unpredictable future. You can create incentives for people to do things after you die. This way, you can still have an impact and take care of your loved ones even after you're gone.

Clarify Your Estate Plan with If-Then Statements

If-then statements allow conditions to determine outcomes. They are most commonly found in deductive logic and computer programming. But, they're also found in legal documents, including estate planning documents.

The premise of an if-then statement is simple: if a given criterion is met, then a certain action follows. For example, you might write in your will that, “If my spouse dies before me, then I leave my house to my oldest son.” Or, “If both my spouse and I pass away, then [Person X] will be nominated as guardian of our children.”

Such clauses can help you retain power over outcomes that would otherwise be out of your control. They can also help you to plan for future contingencies in a way that is not possible with simple declarative statements (e.g., “I leave my house to my spouse.”).

If-then clauses can be combined to account for many future possibilities. So, in addition to “If my spouse dies before me, then I leave my house to my oldest son,” you could specify that “If my son is not employed, then I put my home in a trust to be managed by [Trustee Y].”

Common Beneficiary Milestones Used in Estate Plans

Conditional provisions offer enhanced flexibility to your estate plan and can take many forms. These provisions don't always have to be if-then statements. They can also include gifts or distributions that are triggered at specific times or milestones.

The following are some events you may consider incorporating into your estate plan:

  • A child turning 18 or 21. A child celebrating a milestone birthday could trigger an action in your estate plan. For example, the child receiving distributions from a trust to which they are a beneficiary.

  • Completing a degree or certificate. A gift in your will might be conditioned upon the beneficiary graduating.

  • Purchasing a first home. You could give some or all a bequest to a beneficiary when they buy their first home.

  • Financing a wedding. Parents typically pay for some wedding expenses. A clause in an estate plan can direct wedding money to a child when they tie the knot.

  • Employment. You might hesitate to leave money to a beneficiary who is bad with money or has a poor employment record. As a compromise, you can base their inheritance on being fully employed for at least a year.

  • Sobriety. If your chosen beneficiary struggles with alcohol or drug abuse, you can require them to stay sober for a certain length of time before receiving their inheritance. Or, you may require them to complete a rehab program.

  • Having children. Having a child is expensive. To help with the expenses of childbirth and childrearing, you can include provisions in your estate plan. These provisions can kick extra money to a family member when they give birth, adopt, or need reproductive aid, such as IVF.

  • Retiring. Approximately two-thirds of Americans are not financially prepared for retirement. If you want to ensure that a beneficiary can retire comfortably at an appropriate age, reward them with a lump sum inheritance to be used once they reach retirement age.

Keep in mind that these estate planning milestones can be combined and modified as you wish. For example, you might give wedding money to a child, but keep the rest of their inheritance in a trust. That way, if your child gets divorced, the money and property you pass on will not end up in the hands of their ex-spouse.

Another option is to set up your estate plan to direct more money to someone if the value of a certain account or property rises. Or, if the account overperforms, the increase in value could be donated to a charity of your choice. You could also use an if-then statement to provide that a beneficiary receives an extra gift only if they meet a certain milestone. The options are nearly endless.

Now Is the Time to Plan for the Future

Filling your estate documents with if-then clauses and milestones can make things more complicated. But it might give you greater peace of mind knowing that numerous possibilities have been anticipated.

It is crucial to make sure that everything is in writing. Your estate planning attorney can create a diagram or flowchart that helps you keep track of all the moving pieces. Having a chart—rather than a jargon-filled legal document—can make it easier to review and update your estate plan if there is a major life event. For example, a death, birth, marriage, or illness in the family.

Whatever you decide to do, do not put it off. Act now to create a plan that provides for your loved ones while honoring your wishes. Call 614-389-9711 to schedule an appointment with our estate planning team and get started.

Want to learn more about what goes into an estate plan? Download our Consumer's Guide to Estate Planning here.