I am frequently asked why I emphasize keeping estate plans updated. There are actually two answers to this question; the standard answer, and a more practical reason. Both answers are true, but one is much more personal.
The standard answer to why update your estate plan comes in five related parts:
- Laws Change. Federal estate tax laws change with uncomfortable regularity, especially when a new president takes office. State laws affecting estates change much less frequently, but still often enough to need regular review.
- Circumstances Change. You have more children or grandchildren, minors become adults, you have more or less wealth to distribute. Life is constantly changing and your estate plan must change with it.
- Financial Powers of Attorney Become Stale. Somewhere between 6 months to 3 years is the standard shelf life of a financial power of attorney, and courts and banks are reluctant to accept them after that. Even if nothing else has changed, your Power of Attorney should be signed regularly refreshed.
- You May Move to a Different Jurisdiction. Different states have different laws. Moving from one state to another requires a review and update of your plan.
- Attorneys Get Better. Just like you, attorneys are constantly learning and improving. The advice we gave you five years ago was good. The advice we have for you now is better.
These are the standard reasons to update your estate plan. But there’s a better practical reason that is quite different and much more personal — it has to do with family. Few of us are lucky enough to have a family dynamic that is structurally and emotionally functional. I have met some couples of modest wealth, in their first marriage, with responsible adult children; but I have met more couples who are: in second marriages, with blended families, with one or more child with destructive habits or tendencies, or worried about a son or daughter in-law (the “outlaws”) whose motives conflict with our own values. For these families, change will come swiftly and be overwhelming; frequent reviews and updates will ensure that your estate plan keeps up with these swift changes and continues to function as you intended — protecting you, your spouse, and all your children, even if it is sometimes from themselves.