Updated: Jul 23, 2020
By Sarah Everhart
This post is not legal advice. See here for the site’s reposting policy.
At ALEI we are in the midst of our annual farm and forestry succession workshop series (to find out information about a workshop in your area go to umaglaw.org) and although creating legal documents like a will and power of attorney is vitally important, it is also necessary to review them annually and have the documents amended as needed. I know that retrieving and reviewing these types of documents is as fun as stepping on the scale after the holidays but if you take the time to review them and make necessary changes prior to spring planting season you can rest assured that your affairs are in order.
In documents such as a will or power of attorney, the creator of the document should ensure that the persons named as beneficiaries, personal representatives, etc. are still alive, are still appropriate (are still your choice) and/or have the capacity to act (are not disabled). For example, if in your will you left assets to person (beneficiary) who is now no longer alive you may want to name a new beneficiary. If not, upon your death, the assets will either go to the deceased person’s beneficiaries or the assets may be given to others you have named in your will, depending on how the document is worded. This may not sound like a serious problem; however, if it is your intention to keep your farm in your family and not have in-laws or others ending up with an ownership interest, upon the death of family members, you may need to amend your documents.
If you are not sure by reading your will or other document if the document requires amendment, call the professional who drafted the document and make sure the document will continue to carry out your wishes. Many changes other than deaths such as births, sales of property, divorce, etc. can also necessitate changes to your legal documents. Make sure to also check the beneficiary designations on retirement and investment accounts. These types of accounts are not dictated by the terms of your will and the beneficiary designations will be the deciding factor in who inherits the account upon your death. For example, it is not uncommon for ex-spouses to be beneficiaries due to the failure of the account holder to update the designation upon a divorce.
Insurance policies should also be reviewed annually. If your farm has changed (equipment or land has been purchased, agritourism features added, etc.) make sure you discuss those changes with your insurer and understand the limitations of your coverage and whether additional coverage is needed.
Finally, if, over the holidays, you observe a family member who appears to be losing mental capacity, you may want to consider helping that person conduct a review of his or her important legal documents. We are fortunate in Maryland to have excellent elder law attorneys who are willing to meet with clients in their home, assisted living facility, hospital etc. and make sure proper legal documentation is in place, however, this can only be done while the person has the capacity to sign the documents. Many folks simply wait too late to contact an attorney and at that point there is little that can be done.
On that happy note, I would like to thank all of our blog readers for a great 2017 and wish everyone a peaceful holiday season and a happy new year!