Why You Should Keep Your Estate Plan Current

Has anything happened in the last ten (10) years of your life? Seems like a silly question to ask, but if your estate planning is more than ten years old, it likely isn’t an accurate reflection of your life today or the laws of your state of residence.

As the commercial says, “Life happens fast.” It is not unusual for a person to experience life changes like a divorce, the birth of a child, the death of a spouse or a parent, to name a few. So, what do you do?

Fortunately, almost all estate planning documents can be amended up until the point that you pass away or lose your mental capacity.

A good estate plan should, therefore, be reviewed and updated regularly, especially if you have already entered your senior years. We recommend an estate planning review every two to three years or any time you have a significant change in your health or the health of a loved one.

Why update your estate planning documents?

As we said before, life is unpredictable. And, it happens fast.

For estate planning, unpredictability can be a challenge that may create unintended results. You want to know for certain that your assets will end up with your intended beneficiaries. You want to protect your loved ones and reduce the burden of estate administration after you pass away.

However, nothing remains the same. Relationships change and while many families stay together through thick and thin, fractured relationships, disputes and even feuds are not uncommon.

If you created your will or trust decades ago, your job has likely changed, assets have either grown or shrunk, your relationship with a beneficiary or two may have changed, you may have different philanthropic views, and so on.

Every detail of your estate plan should be reviewed to reflect the changes in your life, changes in the law and changes in your legacy – while you still have mental capacity.

People often “shelve” plans to amend documents, thinking, “it’s not urgent”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nobody knows what is around the corner so having an estate plan that accurately reflects your goals and desires should be a priority.

Even if your life has changed little since you created your estate plan, the legal requirements or tax laws may have changed, leading to possible unintended financial consequences.

How often should you update your estate plan?

There is generally no expiration date on estate planning documents – they last until you die, change them or destroy them.

Some trusts are irrevocable. These cannot be easily amended, and you should always discuss your options with an experienced estate planning lawyer before committing to such arrangements.

Experienced estate planning lawyers will prepare your estate plan in such a way to take into consideration some changes that may occur over time, but you can’t always predict major life changes. Buying a new car should not require a change to your estate plan but buying a new home may require you update your plan to ensure your wishes are properly reflected.

Which life events usually affect estate plans in Florida?

Most commonly, the types of life events that will cause a person in Florida to change their estate plan include the following…

Marriage or divorce

When you get married, there are an estimated 1,100 benefits that accrue as a result. Although not all of these affect your estate plan, some will. Should you consider getting a prenuptial agreement prior to the marriage? In Florida, a surviving spouse is entitled to not less than 30% of your entire estate. In addition, a surviving spouse has certain rights if you die without an estate plan. What they will receive depends on whether this is a first or subsequent marriage and whether or not you have children.

In the event of a divorce, there are certain protection built in to the law to prevent a former spouse from “accidentally” inheriting your estate. However, it is still a good idea to review your estate planning and update ownership and beneficiary designations on all assets.

Childbirth or adoption

You may decide to have children or adopt a child and, naturally, you will want to take care of their needs (or the needs of grandchildren) after you’re gone.

New family members should be added to your estate plan and documents amended. Consider naming a guardian for your child, should you die before he or she reaches the age of 18. Also, consider making provisions for a child with special needs or children from a previous marriage.

Your estate plan allows you to provide ongoing protections for your children (even adult children) to protect them from the bad things that happen to good people. A properly drafted estate plan can provide protection from financial immaturity, possible divorce, catastrophic financial events and catastrophic illness.

A major investment

If you make a major new investment, such as buying real property, your estate plan may need to be updated to address the final distribution of this new acquisition. How you take title to the property and who you intend to inherit in the event of your death should be addressed before closing day.

If you buy a new life insurance policy or make a major change to your coverage, this is a good time to review beneficiary designations to make sure they are consistent with your estate plan. You don’t want to leave large sums of money to minor children as this will require a guardianship. Consider creating a trust to provide professional oversight until the child reaches maturity and can adequately manage their own assets.

Opening or exiting a business

If you start a new business or sell an existing one, this can have major ramifications for your estate plan. We suggest getting advice from your estate planning attorney to discuss the possible impact on your estate plan.

Your attorney can also help you create a business succession or exit plan and update estate documents to reflect your change of circumstances.

Health changes or an accident

Diagnosis of a chronic or degenerative illness or a serious accident resulting in disability and significant medical expenses can change your current and long-term financial situation. How will you pay for long term care if you require substantial rehabilitation or end up in a nursing home? Can you afford to pay for the cost of home caregivers? The answers to these questions can impact how your estate plan should be structured.

If your decision-making ability is impaired, your successor agents and Trustees will need to review your needs for long term care. Your qualified elder law attorney can provide valuable advice to reposition or structure assets in a way that will provide you with the greatest amount of independence while maximizing the value of your estate to provide for your long-term care.

Any time you have a change in your health, that’s a good time to review your estate planning. Periodic reviews will ensure that both you and your loved ones receive the protection your estate plan was intended to create.

How to update your estate plan

Updating your estate plan is not difficult but should be done in consultation with a qualified estate planning or elder law attorney. You’ll want to know your changes are consistent with current law and that your estate planning documents are valid.

Some attorneys may amend your will with a codicil or your trust with an amendment. Others will want to begin fresh with a new will or restatement of your trust. The important point is you’re your plan stays current with changes in our life, changes in the law, and changes in your legacy.

Call The Law Offices of Hoyt and Bryan if you need assistance in updating your estate plan. We are still the only Florida law firm with two attorneys who are Florida Bar Board Certified Specialists in Wills, Trusts and Estates and in Elder Law. Call today: (407) 977-8080.

Peggy R. Hoyt - The Law Offices Of Hoyt & Bryan
About the Author: Peggy Hoyt
Peggy R. Hoyt practices in the areas of family wealth and legacy counselling, including trust and estate planning and administration, elder law, small business creation, succession and exit planning, real estate transactions and animal law.