I am frequently asked whether estate planning documents, such as wills, trusts, powers of attorney, or advanced healthcare directives, need to be updated. The short answer is yes! Estate planning, much like financial planning, tax planning, and retirement planning, is an on-going process over one’s lifetime.
Although estate planning documents do not really “expire,” they may become “stale” by the passage of time or fail to effectuate our wishes. Passing through different life stages can impact the relevance of certain provisions or whether we want to change persons nominated in roles like agent or executor. Moving from one state to another and updates in the law may also affect the usefulness of one’s documents.
This is not an exhaustive list but includes some essential questions to determine whether you might need updates or new documents.
- Has your marital situation changed?
- Have you moved to a different state?
- Have you shifted into a different stage of life? Working to retirement, parent to empty nester?
- Has anyone named in your documents become incapacitated or died, or has their relationship with you changed in some way?
- Has the health of you or your spouse changed?
- Is a beneficiary of your estate someone with special needs or do they require special safeguards if they were to inherit?
- Have you acquired or disposed of significant assets like a house or other property?
- Has the value of your assets substantially increased or decreased?
- Have plans for retirement or long term care changed?
- Do you need to add new beneficiaries or provide for new family members or pets?
- Have your children become adults?
- Has the law changed?
The passage of time is generally reason enough to revisit your estate plan. Life happens and usually within 3 to 5 years there has been a life event impacting one’s plan. Oftentimes, estate planning is last on the list after a major life change, but that can lead to unintended consequences like leaving assets to an ex-spouse or failing to provide for a child. When in doubt, contact an estate planning professional to look at your plan and your documents.