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Friday, December 1, 2017

When You Should Review Your Will and Other Estate Planning Documents

Probably the most common legal request I get is to draft a will for a client.  Inevitably the client has one major question: how often do I need to update or change the will?  Truth be told, there is no hard and fast rule about how often you should update or change your will, but there are some important guidelines to follow.

First, you should review your will (and all of your estate planning documents, including your health care proxy and durable power of attorney) immediately after a major life event.  These life events include (1) the death of an immediate family member; (2) a chance in marital status (marriage, divorce, annulment, passing of your spouse); (3) an addition to your family (birth of a child or grandchild, adoption, new marriage, stepchildren, etc.); (4) a loved one has become ill, incapacitated, or dependent on you; (5) there has been a substantial change in the value of your assets (new house, boat, job, etc.); (6) you have received a sizable gift or inheritance; (7) you are retiring; and (8) your plans for the future have changed.  These are just a few of the most common examples of a major life event, but the list is certainly not exhaustive. 

Second, you should review your estate planning documents when your youngest child turns eighteen (18) years old.  This is especially true if you are not intending on having any future children.  More often than not, once your children have reached the age of adulthood, there may be language in your will or your trust documents that are no longer necessary.  For example, most people with children under eighteen (18) elect their children's guardians in their will.  Once the children are eighteen, this is unnecessary and the will should be revised to make the probate process much less complicated. 

Third, you should review your estate planning documents when new state laws are enacted that impact estate planning documents.  Typically, your lawyer will contact you when there is a new law that could impact your wishes, but it is always best to contact your attorney yourself.  They will (or at least should) be always happy to discuss your estate planning concerns.

Fourth, you should review your estate planning documents if you have an IRA, 401(k) or other qualified plan that requires you to begin to take distributions at a certain age.


Fifth, and this one that not everyone thinks about, you should review your estate planning documents upon the death or the retirement of your estate planning attorney.  A good number of people are so happy that the will execution process is over, that they do not want to think about their estate planning documents until they need them.  If you have left your original will or other documents with your attorney (which is usually recommended), if something happens to that attorney, it is very important for you to advocate for your estate planning documents. 

Perhaps the best discussion of this fifth guideline is a recent example.  I was contacted by a client, a husband and wife who have been married for over forty years.  They drafted a will after their second child was born in the 1980s and put their wills in a safe-deposit box.  They believed they had original copies of their wills in the safe-deposit box.  However, when they inspected the box, they only found unsigned copies of their wills.  For obvious reasons, a court will typically not accept unsigned copies of wills.  Understandably, they panicked and tried to contact their estate planning attorney.  They learned that he passed away unexpectedly a couple of years ago.  This couple went from thinking they had valid wills safely secure in their safe-deposit box to having no idea where their wills might be, through no fault of anyone.

There are three primary benefits of having a fully executed will: (1) ease of future burden on your family; (2) your wishes will be protected; and (3) you will have peace of mind.  To best ensure all three of these benefits will be ongoing, it is highly recommended that you review your estate planning documents at least once every three to five years. 

Things happen in life that are of no fault of our own.  Having a current, accurate, and valid will, as well as durable power of attorney and health care proxy, can minimize stress, anxiety, and financial burdens, both now and in the future.  Make sure to stay in regular contact with your estate planning attorney and never hesitate in asking them any questions you may have.  If you are over eighteen and have never discussed estate planning with an attorney before, please contact myself or any qualified estate planning attorney as soon as possible to begin this important process.

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