Just as houses do, estate plans require periodic maintenance. This is due to a variety of factors but mostly to changes in people’s circumstances and changes in the law. Let’s talk about changes in your life and the lives of your loved ones.
Life is all about change. Children grow up, adults grow older, and most people move periodically and acquire new stuff. Your daughter, who was six when you originally did your estate plan, may now be married with children, but your existing estate plan doesn’t address this change. You may have moved one or more times since your estate plan was drafted. Further, the person or persons you had originally designated to manage your affairs (assets and medical) may now be dead or just no longer be your desired beneficiaries and chosen asset managers. These are just a few examples of why it’s a very good idea to have your estate plan reviewed and updated every three to five years.
Sometimes, this checkup with your estate planning attorney will be brief and result in little or no changes to your estate plan. At other times, you might need to make various updates to your plan to account for many different things that have happened in your life and in the life of your loved ones.
Changes in the law must also be monitored and accounted for because lawmakers are constantly tinkering with the tax laws and other laws that can have an effect on your estate plan. Thankfully, it’s possible to “hard wire” technology into your estate planning documents that will make it unnecessary to constantly change your legal documents later to account for every change of law. Even so, sometimes the law is changed in such a way that it becomes prudent if not absolutely necessary to change your estate plan.
It’s just plain wise to have your estate plan reviewed by a competent attorney every three to five years just in case. That way, you can always rest assured that your plan is consistent with changes in your life and the law. This will ensure that your estate plan keeps working for you, your family, and your property.
Such periodic checkups and maintenance for your estate plan are not just about trying to generate fees for your attorney; you will always retain the power to determine whether you want to have the updated work done. I might tell a client who comes in for an estate plan checkup that he or she should consider updating X, Y, and Z in the plan due to changes in personal circumstance and the law. After receiving my recommendations and explanations and learning the fees for the changes, the client gets to decide to go ahead with the changes or not. He or she might keep the plan as is. All in all, the client is in total control. My task is to make sure my clients are well informed about not only the changes I recommend but also the reasoning behind them, and that goes for both minor changes and the critical ones that can come up at times. It’s always best for a client to get the information, become well informed, and then decide how to proceed.