If you’ve ever written and executed a will, you’re arguably ahead of more than half of Americans (provided your will actually does what you want it to). Congratulations! But does having a will and other estate planning documents mean you’re done with estate planning forever? Assuming you have at least a few more years left on Earth, probably not.
As the American novelist Louis L’Amour once said, “The only thing that never changes is that everything changes.” That includes your family, your finances, your goals, your health, and virtually everything else in your life. To make sure your estate plan keeps up with these changes, you should have it reviewed by an estate planning attorney at least once every three to five years. (If an estate planning attorney helped you with your estate plan and you still live in the same state, see if he/she will review your estate plan at no extra charge.)
To make sure you don’t neglect your estate plan, it’s a good idea to set a date each year to reflect on what’s changed in your life during the past year. You might choose a date with significance (like January 1 or your birthday), a date about a year after you last updated your estate plan, or a date when you expect to be working on your taxes. If you keep an electronic calendar, consider creating an event that repeats annually to remind you.
On whatever yearly date you’ve chosen (or right now if you haven’t updated your estate plan in a while), take a few minutes to ask yourself the following questions:
- Have I gotten separated or divorced?
- Have I gotten married or entered into a relationship that might lead to marriage?
- Do I have any new children or grandchildren?
- Has my spouse or any of my beneficiaries passed away or experienced a significant change in their life circumstances?
- Have I experienced any significant changes in my health, like being diagnosed with a serious illness?
- Have I experienced any significant changes in my income or net worth?
- Has my relationship with anyone named in my estate planning documents, including my beneficiaries, executor(s), guardian(s), agent(s), and healthcare agent(s), materially changed?
- Have I received a large inheritance, or have I learned about one I may receive in the future?
- Have I sold, or am I planning to sell, my home?
- Have I moved, or am I planning to move, to a different state? (Note: If you answer “yes” here, you’ll need to contact an estate planning attorney licensed in your new state to make sure your estate planning documents are still valid and effective under that state’s laws.)
- Am I approaching age 70 ½?
- Have I started a business, or if I already have a business, am I thinking of selling it?
- Have I made, or am I thinking of making, a significant gift to charity?
- Have I bought or sold real estate or other costly assets?
- Have I been made aware of any changes in estate or tax law?
If you answer “yes” to any of the questions above, contact an estate planning attorney to discuss whether any changes should be made to your estate plan.
If you have any questions, please post a comment below or send me a message here.