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Stuff Happens: When to Update Your Estate Plan

Legal checkup

An estate plan isn’t a static document. It’s not a “one and done” event to be checked off your bucket list. Many years, even decades, might pass between the creation of an estate plan and the time you’ll need it. In that time, a lot of things can happen that could make your estate plan outdated or even invalid. Here is a partial list of events that warrant an estate plan review.

  1.  Death or divorce. Most estate plans for married couples involve the spouse. If that spouse is no longer in the picture, the plan needs to be revised. Nothing worse than finding out the will leaves everything to the ex-spouse.
  2. Change in health. One of the reasons for an estate plan is to provide for the maker of the plan when he or she can’t provide for themselves. If your health is declining, it’s a good time to look into a trust.
  3. Change in assets. Suppose that Samantha has three children, Albert, Becky and Cathy. She also has three pieces of real estate, her home, a vacation home and a rental. She makes a will that leaves the home to Albert, the vacation home to Becky and the rental to Cathy. Between the time of the will and her death she sells the rental and uses the money on an around-the-world trip. She doesn’t update her will. When she dies, Albert gets the home, Becky gets the vacation home and Cathy…..? Poor Cathy is left in the cold because there’s no rental home left. You see the point.
  4. Change in circumstances of a beneficiary. When a will or trust is made, it’s based on the current situations of the beneficiaries, the spouse or children usually. Over time, things happen. A child may develop a drug, alcohol, gambling or other problem that would make leaving money to him outright less than desirable. Or a grandchild with special needs might come along. Your estate plan should always reflect the current circumstances of everyone.
  5. Changes in laws. Twenty years ago marital deduction or A-B trusts were the rage because of the relatively low estate and gift tax credit. These things were cumbersome and complex. In recent years, the increase of the estate and gift tax credit to over $10 million means the large majority of people in the United States don’t need these types of trusts anymore. For simplicity and ease of administration, it’s wise to have your estate plan reviewed periodically (at least every 10 years) to make sure it makes sense under current laws.

These are only a few of the reasons to have your estate plan reviewed by a professional. It’s like going to the doctor or dentist for a routine checkup. Maybe everything in your estate plan is still fine, just like sometimes all your teeth are fine. But it’s always better to know than to wonder.


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