A well drafted estate plan is intended to last many, many years. It is my hope that my clients ride off into the sunset with their estate plans and do not need any updates. However, life is anything but constant, so sometimes changes are necessary. It is important to revisit your estate plan every few years and when you and your immediate family experience major life events–for example: marriages, divorces, births, deaths, buying/selling a home or winning the lottery–to make sure your plan still matches your goals.
There are some safeguards in place so you don’t need to constantly update your estate plan. For example, after-born children (children born after a Will was signed) will nearly always be included, while a divorced spouse is likely to be excluded. But it’s better to be sure than to hope the law will correct your mistakes. If you’re not sure, speak with an attorney who can properly advise you.
Here are three easy steps to see if your estate plan needs updating:
Step One: Confirm your documents are signed.
Go check your will and/or trust to make sure it is signed and witnessed by two people. I am surprised by how many people never actually sign their estate planning documents. Have you checked? No? Did you forgo checking because you are sure they are signed? If your Will isn’t signed with two witnesses… it’s time to get a signed estate plan.
Step Two: Locate your original will.
Do you know where your original Will is? Your original Will–the version you actually signed, as opposed to a copy–is the only one that has legal value. When it comes to Wills, copies are merely paper with words on them. If you do not know where your original Will is … it’s time to get a new Will.
Step Three: Confirm your will or trust says what you want it to.
Check to make sure your wishes haven’t changed from when you originally wrote your will. You want to make sure you have contingencies in place–you want to make sure you have a backup “Plan B” if your “Plan A” heirs all die before you. Also check to make sure your appointed personal representative or trustee and successor personal representative or trustees are still alive. If you have moved since the documents were created, you may need a new Transfer on Death Deed or Quit Claim Deed to Trust for your new property. If anything isn’t just the way you want it… it’s time to update your estate plan.
Bonus Step: Confirm your beneficiary designations.
While you’re at it, double check that you have beneficiaries on all your financial accounts and ensure the beneficiaries are who you wish them to be and that they conform to the plan you created with your attorney. I recommend you get your beneficiary designations confirmed in writing.