When is it time to update an estate plan?

Conventional wisdom suggests that every estate plan be reviewed periodically, perhaps every five years.  But it really depends more on your personal circumstances.  Here are some examples:

If you or someone close to you gets married or divorced, a major update is almost certainly needed.  This will probably entail not just changes to your will and/or trust, but also to any jointly held property and beneficiary designations on insurance policies, retirement accounts, pay-on-death accounts and transfer-on-death deeds.  

The addition or loss of a close family member may also necessitate a revision.  

Any parent of a minor child should already have a will that names a legal guardian in the event of the parent's death, and the named guardian should be reviewed periodically to reflect changing needs and preferences. 

A significant increase or decrease in the value of assets or the acquisition of unique property, perhaps by inheritance, may necessitate a close review of your existing plan.  Also, any changing priorities, such as wanting to incorporate charitable giving into your plan, may warrant revisions.

A serious illness of someone close to you, particularly a spouse or child, may also necessitate changes, not just to their estate plan but to yours as well.  

You may need to replace a named agent, such as a personal representative, trustee, guardian or designated funeral agent, if the named person is no longer able to serve due to death, disability, or health issues.

If you have become the primary caretaker of an adult child or parent, you may want to provide for their care in the event your own death or incapacity.

Anyone who has moved to a new state since planning their estate should have an estate planning attorney in their new state review that plan.  Many of the laws that govern estate planning vary from state to state.  

Changes in the laws that are relevant to estate planning may necessitate a close review, but not many people will know when such a laws change, much less the potential impact on their estate plan.  Some attorneys automatically contact their clients and former clients when a change in the law may affect them, but others do not.  If you are not sure if your attorney intends to do this, it's a good idea to ask.  

Much can be at stake.  An out-of-date estate plan can be worse than no estate plan.  For example, many moderately wealthy people still have wills and trusts that stopped making sense when the estate tax laws changed about five years ago.  In these cases, the surviving spouse may end up with a relatively inflexible trust known by various names, including Credit-Shelter, Bypass, Non-marital, or Family Trust.  Such trusts are not necessarily a bad thing, but many such couples would probably prefer a simpler approach that would give the surviving spouse greater control over the deceased spouse's assets.  

Because individual circumstances sometimes vary dramatically, the information provided in this blog cannot be relied upon as legal advice.

John Roth is the founder of Hawaii Trust & Estate Counsel, a statewide estate planning law firm with offices in Waimea, Hilo, Kona, and Honolulu. He has taught Estate Planning at the Richardson School of Law, and business law courses at the University of Hawaii—Hilo. He has resided in North Hawaii since 2008.  

PHOTO: The header photo was taken by Ena Media at the wedding of Kumu Belcher, Attorney with Hawaii Trust and Estate Counsel.



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