An estate plan is a vibrant, dynamic gathering of documents that should be updated as regularly as possible. It should not be a handwritten note in your dresser or a private document gathering dust in a security deposit box. When you keep this plan relevant, it can be used at any moment to reflect your true wishes.
What influences a person's decision to update?
Legal advisors have different opinions about when you should update your estate plan. Some recommend every year, every five years, and still others every ten years. However, most agree that you should update it whenever there is a major event in your life.
These could be events related to you, your children or even your grandchildren. This includes the following:
- A marriage or divorce
- A death
- A falling-out or estrangement
- The birth or adoption of a child or grandchild
- The purchase of real estate or vehicles
- The opening of a business
- The opening or adjustment of a 401k/IRA account or other investment portfolio
What changes might be necessary?
It might not be immediately clear why you would need to update your estate plan after one of these life changes. A legal advisor can guide you through a series of questions that will help with the process.
After any of these events, you might have a different opinion of what you would like to happen to your estate. This includes changes to the following:
- Executor of your estate: Is the appointed person still trustworthy?
- Guardian for your children: Is the person willing and able to parent all your children?
- Beneficiaries and contingent beneficiaries: Would you like to add or remove someone?
- Financial and healthcare power of attorney: Have your end-of-life wishes changed?
- Funeral plans: Have your funeral or burial wishes changed?
You and your advisor's time is valuable. If you can do as much homework or prep work as possible before your appointment, it will help the process go smoothly. This might include taking time to seriously consider if you would like to make any changes to your estate.
These decisions can be highly personal. For example, if you would still like to be buried next to your ex-spouse after a divorce, that can be arranged. However, unless your beneficiaries know your wishes, they might question that detail and make other arrangements.
If your estate plan is always relevant, your beneficiaries will always know it reflects your wishes at the time of your death. This helps to eliminate confusion in their time of grief and help them to heal.