You just finished setting up your estate plan: you received your estate planning notebook containing copies of your estate planning documents, you finished updating all of your beneficiary designations to incorporate your plan, and you spoke to all of the individuals named as agents in your documents. Doesn’t it feel good to check that off your list?
But, wait. What’s that your attorney just said? I’m not done? You are telling me that I also need to review my estate plan once in a while?
Estate planning is a process that is continually evolving. Your life never stands still. The demands of your estate plan won’t stand still either.
Mostly, the need for changes to your estate plan is because your wishes may change. Your estate plan is a reflection of your wishes, whether for financial or health care planning during your lifetime or the management and distribution of your estate upon your passing. Your wishes will change as your life changes.
Or, other triggers may occur that demand change. The laws that might change in a way that impacts your plan. Events such a birth, a death, a marriage or a divorce may happen. Or, you or one of your beneficiaries moved or declared bankruptcy. Or, one of your beneficiaries developed a health, emotional or psychological problem that requires the use of a trust, maybe even a special needs trust, to manage assets for that beneficiary.
The list of possibilities is endless. However, if something good or bad happens in your life and you remember to think about your estate plan, you can take the steps necessary to address that change in your estate plan.
We have developed a checklist that can be used to help you stay on top of your estate plan. The questions included in the checklist are not exclusive but should get you thinking about all of the possible changes in your life that could result in changes to your estate plan. Use this checklist on a regular basis, at least every year or two, to help you identify issues that previously may have escaped your attention.
If questions arise during your review that cause you concern, or if you know of changes that need to be made, please contact your attorney. That’s what we are here for!
Your attorney can review the questions and concerns you have identified, as well any changes in the law that may have occurred since your estate plan was last updated, and make recommendations on how your estate plan should be amended to address those questions and concerns.
Simple changes can be handled with a Codicil (a formal amendment to your Will) or a Trust Amendment, depending on your estate plan. Other documents, such as your Advance Medical Directives and General Powers of Attorney, may need to be redone, and that should be rather straightforward as well. More complex changes may require new estate planning documents, but this should be the exception rather than the rule.
Please note that if you simply edit your estate plan informally by scratching out a provision or inserting a different provision, those edits may not result in the changes you were trying to make, or worse, they may invalidate your estate plan altogether. To be safe, always have your attorney help you make the necessary changes using legally sufficient documents.
The important thing is that your estate plan should always reflect your current wishes. Life is uncertain, and if something happens to you, either a disability or death, the provisions in your estate plan will be followed, whether they reflect your current wishes or not.
If you would like a copy of our Estate Planning Update Checklist, you can find it on our website under Resources.. Scroll down until you see Estate Planning Checklist.