The Importance of Keeping your Estate Plan Up-to-Date

Spouses review estate plan documents

Your estate plan has one purpose: to make sure your welfare and your affairs are handled according to your wishes once you can no longer make decisions for yourself. But estate planning should not be a one-time occurrence. Your estate plan should change over time to reflect your current assets, affairs, and expectations. If you want your Will or trust to honor your wishes, you need to do your part to keep your estate plan up to date.

Why You Should Update Estate Planning Documents

No one can predict the course of their lives decades in advance. Changes in jobs and residences, births and deaths, divorce and remarriage, or changes of political or philanthropic endorsements can arise over the years and cause your past estate plan to drift from your current wishes.

Even when your life hasn’t changed, the legal world around you may have. While the documents may have been put together properly at the time they were executed, they may mean something different or have unintended financial effects because of laws that changed years or even decades after the fact. Everything from federal estate tax adjustments to a local court case could affect the outcome of your estate or trust administration.

What Effect Trust Changes Have on an Estate Plan

Just like Wills, revocable trust documents need to be kept up-to-date to avoid any unwanted surprises in the future. You may have purchased property that needs to be transferred into the trust, or you may need to make adjustments to distribution or management instructions to protect your loved ones and your nest egg in the years following your passing. You may need to modify the trust if a family member has begun receiving government support for a disability. You may even need to terminate the living trust entirely or create an irrevocable trust to make the most of your financial position now and in the future. Your estate planning attorney can help you consider the financial and tax implications of your current estate plan and help you decide if any trust changes need to be made.

Some of those changes could also affect the rest of your estate planning documents. For example, if you terminate a revocable living trust, you will also need to modify the “pour over” Will transferring the rest of your assets into that trust upon your death. Similarly, you may need to mirror changes in the rest of your estate plan by adjusting the language of your trust documents. For example, when you name a new power of attorney that person may need to have authority to request funds from your revocable trust. That is why it is important to review your entire estate plan together, to make sure all the pieces fit as you intend.

How Often Should Wills be Updated

Estate planning documents generally do not have an expiration date. Once a Will is executed, it stays in place until it is updated or executed. That can be a good or bad thing, depending on what has changed in the meantime.

Most experienced estate planning attorneys will write an estate plan broadly enough to reduce how often you have to renew your Will. You shouldn’t have to rewrite your Will every time you replace a vehicle, for example. But many important life events can have unintended effects on your estate plan:

  • Marriage
  • Childbirth
  • Adoption
  • Inheritance
  • Divorce
  • Diagnosis of a chronic or degenerative illness
  • Serious accident resulting in disability or substantial medical expenses
  • Death of a beneficiary
  • Death of a trustee, executor, agent, or health care surrogate

When one of these life events occurs, it is a good idea to read through your existing estate plan and decide if it still reflects your wishes for your life. It is also wise to talk to your estate planning attorney to make sure there aren’t any legal surprises caused by those changes that you aren’t aware of.

Even if you don’t have any major life changes, it is a good idea to review your estate planning documents with your attorney every 3 to 5 years. Trust and Will reviews allow you to:

  • Ensure that your trust has been properly funded and all appropriate deeds and titles have been executed
  • Update estate planning documents when laws have changed since the they were written
  • Adjust the distribution of tangible personal property (sentimental items) and philanthropic gifts
  • Change beneficiary awards and agent designations based on interpersonal events
  • Adjust end-of-life care decisions related to advances in medical technology
  • Anticipate future life changes on the horizon

How to Update a Will

Updating a Will or estate plan may be as simple as putting together a new “separate writing” for tangible personal property, or as complex as executing an entirely new set of documents. Depending on what changes need to be made, your estate planning attorney may recommend creating a “codicil” to make small adjustments, or rewriting specific documents within the estate plan. When major changes happen -- such as when you need to remove a major beneficiary -- you may need to significantly rewrite your Will and adjust who will receive your assets after your death. Your estate planning attorney can help you decide which way to update a Will is best in your circumstances, and make sure the final document correctly reflects your needs.

At Harrison Estate Law, we know how important it is to keep your estate planning up to date. We will be happy to meet with you to review your existing estate planning documents and recommend adjustments that will protect your legacy and provide for your family for years to come. Please contact us online or via email or call 352-559-9828 to schedule a free consultation. If you don’t live close to Gainesville or are practicing social distancing, we are happy to set up a phone or Zoom call.