Great, you created your estate plan; and by getting crucial documents drafted and signed, you are ahead of most people in planning for your future. An estate plan is not a “set it and forget it” type of thing. The only thing worse than not having an estate plan, is to have one that does not match the person’s goals and wishes. Just as your goals and the list of things you wanted to have and do have changed throughout your life, your goals of how you want your money and your property to be used during your life and then after you have passed away has likely changed as well. Just like you can change your mind about the things you want to do and have, you should make changes to your estate plan when you change your mind about who will get your money and property when you die. As we all know too well, other people make decisions that affect us, and events that we don’t have control over also can cause us to change our list of things to do and things to get. The well-used saying is that “Life happens”. When Life happens, you should remember to revisit your estate planning documents to make sure the plan you created is still consistent with what you currently want.
When things like the following examples happen to you, your immediate family, or other people, it should act as a reminder to you to review your estate planning documents and make sure that the documents say exactly what you want them to say. Typically, wills and trust documents can be amended, so updating that part of an estate plan should not require you to have completely new documents created. On the other hand, power of attorneys for health care, power of attorneys for financial matters, and living wills usually require that a new document be created for your changes to be effective.
Certainly, your estate plan should be reviewed and assessed whenever the size of your immediate family increases or decreases. Examples of common events that increase family sizes are marriages, births, or adoptions. Life also happens and causes a decrease in family sizes, such as through divorce, legal separation, deaths. Other events, like getting a promotion, returning to school for a degree, moving to another state, “up-sizing” or “down-sizing” your home, or purchasing a vacation home, condo, or timeshare. Last, but not least, let us not forget to think of the always fun event of winning a mega-million lottery.
Less frequently thought of, are events that happen to others, but are likely to have an impact on your estate plan. Some of these events may include a parent becoming incapacitated or passing away, a sibling of yours getting married, starting a family, or passing away while still having minor children (guardianship issues). Increases or decreases in family size and the goals that you have for your estate plan also come from events involving your adult children getting married, having children of their own, getting divorced, becoming incapacitated by an accident, or passing away.
Another event that is beyond the control of most people, is a change in a law relating to wills, living wills, trusts, power of Attorneys for health care decisions or for financial matters. Since very few of us stay up-to-date on proposed changes to laws, having an estate planning attorney review your estate planning documents every three to five years is a way to ensure that your estate plan not only is in alignment with your state’s laws, but also accurately reflects your goals and wishes. If you have not had your estate plan reviewed in the last three to five years, you should contact a couple of estate planning attorneys in your area and have the one who you feel most comfortable working with to ask you about your goals and wishes for your estate plan, and make sure that your estate plan says what you need and want it to say.