After my clients have signed their wills or trusts, they usually ask me how often they need to have them reviewed and possibly updated. In general, the answer varies depending on the complexity of their estate and other factors in their family. However, I generally tell people that it is a good idea to have your estate plan reviewed every three to five years. For larger estates, this timeframe gets shortened up to every one to two years, and, for small estates, it may be possible to do the reviews at longer intervals. Of course, I also tell them that this assumes that there are no changes in their family situation “on their end” and no significant legal changes “on my end”.
There are several changes that might occur in your family that would prompt you to make changes to your will or trust. First, one of the key people in your documents (maybe the person you named as your trustee or your agent under your durable general power of attorney) passes away or becomes incapacitated. Obviously, if the person that you were expecting to be in charge of your estate can no longer serve in this position, you will need to make some changes to your documents. Second, when someone gets divorced or remarries, they usually want to make changes to these documents. Third, sometimes over time, people develop different ideas about how they want their distribution provisions to work. Sometimes these changes are prompted by the birth of a grandchild, sometimes by the behavior of some of their children, sometimes because of the death or incapacity of a child, or sometimes because of their involvement in their church or a favorite charity. Finally, there are endless other reasons too, which are all specific to changes in your family situation.
On my “end”, various legal changes occur over time. For instance, there may be a significant tax law change that impacts the planning that I do for my clients. The estate tax exemption is now $5.43 million per person in the United States, meaning that, generally speaking, you can pass away with up to $5.43 million in your estate without having to pay estate tax. When the previous estate tax exemption increased to $5 million permanently, with an annual cost of living adjustment, this was a huge change, and I have recommended that several of my clients make major changes to their trusts as a result of this change. One other change that impacts all of my clients is the enactment of the mental health care power of attorney statutes in Arizona a few years ago. Now, the typical health care power of attorney will not cover things such as Altzheimer’s or dementia if mental health care treatment is ever needed in the future. As a result, I have recommended to all of my clients that they do a mental health care power of attorney as well as their wills, trusts (if applicable), and other powers of attorney. Finally, one other change in the law that has affected almost all of my documents is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (aka HIPAA) laws. HIPAA laws are intended to protect the privacy of your health care information. However, HIPAA authorization language has “crept” into all of my health care documents, trusts, and durable general powers of attorney because health care information is almost always necessary to make a determination about someone’s incapacity.
With all that said, there are a couple of other things to keep in mind when you are deciding whether it is time to have your documents reviewed:
Our firm has helped hundreds of families just like yours handle a wide variety of business planning, estate planning, probate, and elder law issues. When families or business owners are not getting along, we can also handle any disputes and litigation related to their businesses, wills, trusts, guardianships, or conservatorships. Please give me a call, so that I can help you work through these difficult issues with confidence.