It isn’t always pleasant to deal with the specifics of estate planning. Creating a will or trust can be complicated and tedious. It can be hard to contemplate distributing a lifetime of accumulated assets. And it can be difficult to imagine a world in which you are no longer able to make your own health care decisions or manage your own finances. Yet an updated estate plan must account for all of these things and the completion and continual updating of an estate plan ensures that a person’s final wishes are carried out with a minimum amount of burden to loved ones and family members.
Having new grandchildren, moving to a new home and retiring are common reasons for updating an estate plan. The health needs of an individual may change and require an updating of a person’s power of attorney and living will. Blended families from second or third marriages may also complicate a person’s original will or trust.
Options for updating an estate plan
It is possible to modify an existing will or trust to reflect changes in your life. You may amend a revocable trust (the more common type of trust) to reflect any changes you wish to make. You can also write a “codicil” to an existing will that lists changes to the original document. It is also possible to create a completely new will or trust and render the first document invalid.
Whether you should amend your estate plan or begin again depends on the significance of the change. If you no longer wish to leave part of your estate to a person you listed in the original estate plan, for example, it is often better to simply begin again. If there are only minor changes that need to be made an amendment or codicil is often an easier and less expensive option.
The important part of modifying an existing estate plan or creating a new one is to put it down in writing.
The following checklist is a good place to begin determining whether an estate plan needs updating:
Assess life changes, especially changes in family makeup and financial assets
Review power of attorney forms, including who you wish to make medical decisions on your behalf should you no longer be able to do so
Review beneficiaries to determine that heirs and charities are receiving what you want them to; similarly, make sure specific property you want to give to specific individuals is written down
Review beneficiary designations, especially on insurance, retirement plans and bank accounts
People looking to update their estate plan should contact an experienced estate planning attorney to discuss their options.