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When Should You Revise or Update Your Estate Plan?

From Plato, to the Stoics, to Bob Dylan and more, thinkers have long recognized that change is the law of life.  And like everything else in your life, your estate plan should grow and change with you.  Which leads to the question – when should you update or revise your estate plan?  To answer that question, it’s important to ask a few others:  How often should you review your estate plan?  How has your life changed since your estate plan was prepared and last updated?  When did you last connect with your estate planning attorney?  Answers to those questions will help answer when you should update or revise your plan.

How Often Should You Review Your Estate Plan?

From our perspective, the easy answer to this is annually.  I don’t believe you necessarily need to see your estate planning attorney annually.  I do believe you need to review your plan yourself annually.  Remind yourself who your “helpers” are – those people you appointed to make health care  or financial decisions  for you if you can’t.  Are those still the same people you want making those important decisions?  Make sure the people who will inherit when you die are still the right people.  Consider whether you’ve added assets, such as bank accounts, investment accounts, cars or boats, new benefits at work, life insurance, or houses or vacation homes.  When you added those assets, if you have a trust plan, did you make sure they were “funded” into your trust?  For example, were they established in the name of your trust or was your trust made the beneficiary of the asset, if that is what you want.  Alternatively, if you have a will plan, does the new asset have a pay/transfer on death designation or beneficiary designation?

You can make this review part of an annual financial checkup.  Perhaps set aside time when you’re preparing your taxes, or meeting with your financial advisor.  You could also pick a time when you know you won’t be as busy.  Maybe the start of the new year, Memorial Day or Labor Day.  Or if you’re like me, early September is good, when my children are back in school, and I can typically find a few extra moments to do some financial housekeeping.

Now that you’ve reviewed your estate plan, is it time for revisions or an update?

When Should You Update or Revise Your Estate Plan?

Updates or revisions may be necessary if your life has changed in a way that necessitates a change to your estate planning documents.  Some examples of changes that may require revisions or updates include the following:

  • Relationships: A first marriage, divorce or remarriage necessitates a review of your estate plan and almost always requires updates and revisions.
  • Births: The birth of your first child or the birth of additional children may require an estate plan update. Although many trusts are drafted to account for afterborn children, you will at least want to share with your attorney that you have a new child, their name and their birthdate.  The same is true for the birth of grandchildren.
  • Deaths: The death of a loved one, particularly of a spouse, child, or parent, will most likely require an estate plan update.  And you will also want to double check beneficiary designations.
  • Change in Helpers: If you want to change the people you appointed to make healthcare or financial decisions for you, you should speak with an attorney.  There are many things to consider here.  Are you still close to the people you appointed?  Are they aging or perhaps you’re no longer comfortable with them making decisions for you?  Similarly, are your children now old enough and responsible enough to handle some of the responsibility you had previously assigned to another relative or a friend?  Or are your children still minors, but you need to update the people you appointed to serve as a guardian for them?
  • Capacity Issues: Are your parents or a spouse aging and beginning to show signs of diminished capacity?  Are children or other loved ones struggling with a disability or an addiction issue? Capacity issues require careful consideration and a qualified estate planning attorney can help you navigate this challenging time.
  • A Move: Have you moved?  You should notify your attorney if you move, as at a minimum they will want to make sure any new real estate is part of your estate plan, and will also want to be sure they can get in touch with you when necessary.  Are you still in the same state or have you moved to a new state?  If you’re in a new state, you will want to talk to an estate planning professional in your new state.
  • Asset Change: Has there been a significant increase or decrease in your asset level?  If so, this could require changes to the way your documents are drafted, to provide the best planning for your current needs.

The above are just a few of the many life changes that may necessitate updates or revisions to your estate plan.

When Did You Last Talk With Your Estate Planning Attorney?

Even if you don’t believe your life has changed in a manner that would require revisions or updates to your estate plan, we strongly recommend that you check in with your estate planning attorney at least once every three to five years.  There may have been changes in the law that you should know about, or your attorney may identify changes in your life that could lead you to consider changes to your estate plan.  For example, within the last three years, there have been significant changes to the law affecting estate planning with  retirement assets.  Even more changes may occur within the next 3 years when current federal estate tax exemption is set to sunset.  By taking the time to meet with your attorney, you can ensure that not only is your plan up to date to reflect your current life, but it is also up to date to reflect the current state of the law.

Call a dedicated estate planning attorney to  help you and your loved ones prepare or update your estate plan, trust, will or powers of attorney. Contact our St. Louis office at 314-303-3218 if you’d like assistance with updating or developing a comprehensive estate or elder law plan.

** The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.

Written July 22, 2023 by Stephanie Martinez

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