Your estate plan is a snapshot of you, your family, and your assets at the time it was created. But people and situations change, and your plan will probably need to change, too.
You should change your plan any time it no longer does what you want.
If you review it regularly, you will become very familiar with it and you will be able to keep it current with your life.
Here’s a checklist of events that could prompt a change in your plan.
Changes in Your Family Situation
You and Your Spouse
• You marry, divorce or separate;
• Your health (or your spouse’s health) declines, or your spouse dies.
Your Children, Grandchildren, Parents, and Other Beneficiaries
• Birth or adoption;
• Marriage, divorce, or separation;
• Finances change (good or bad);
• Parent or other relative becomes dependent on you;
• Minor becomes an adult;
• Attitude toward you changes;
• Health declines;
• A child, grandchild, or other beneficiary dies.
Changes in Your Economic Situation
• Value of assets changes dramatically (up or down);
• Change in business interests (new partnership or corporation, you plan to sell a business, etc.);
• You buy real estate in another state;
• You are planning to retire and/or need to designate a final beneficiary for tax-deferred plans before distributions begin.
• Changes in the laws, state or federal. Find out if your attorney will keep you informed when changes occur that would affect your trust.
• You plan to move to a different state;
• Your executor, successor trustee or guardian for minor children moves away, becomes ill, dies, or changes his/her mind about accepting the responsibility.
• You change your mind about a successor trustee or guardian for your minor children.
Note: If you have a living trust, you do not need to change your trust when you buy and sell assets. But you do need to title newly acquired assets in the name of your trust.
How to Change Your Documents
If you decide you want to make a change, don’t write on your documents. Once you have signed them, they must not be altered.
If you want to make a change to a will, your attorney will prepare a codicil that will be attached to your will document.
If you want to change something that is in a trust document, your attorney will prepare an amendment to your trust which you will sign, and it will probably be notarized, just like your trust document. It should not take your attorney very long to prepare one, nor should it cost you very much. You do not need to do anything to your assets that are in your trust. Your attorney will just change the trust document that controls your assets.
If you keep a separate list of your special gifts (specific items that you want to go to certain people or organizations), you do not need to make any changes to your trust. You just need to update the list and have it notarized.
It's important to work with an attorney who's practice solely focuses on estate planning law, because so many times -- as the old saying goes -- if we "try to be good at everything we end up being good at nothing". So my parting hope is that you find a lawyer that only practices estate planning law, that they are someone you can trust, and that you're able to get your needs taken care of.