If You Haven’t Been Regularly Reviewing Your Estate Plan, When Should You?

How frequently you should review your estate plan depends on how old you are and whether there has been a significant change in your circumstances. If you are over age 60, for example, and you haven’t updated your estate plan in a decade or two, it’s almost certain that you need to update your documents. There are no black and white rules, but here are some basic guidelines.

Age.  Here are a few age ranges and what they mean in terms of estate planning:

18-25:  Everyone needs a durable power of attorney, advance health care directive and HIPAA release so that they have people they choose to step in and make decisions for them in the event of incapacity.

25-40:  Once you begin accumulating assets (like a home), get married, and/or have children, it’s important to create an estate plan to care for your loved ones in the event of your death. It also can’t hurt to update your durable power of attorney, advance health care directive, and HIPAA release, since the people you may have appointed at 18 (your parents?) may not be the people you want in these roles at age 25 or later. Additionally, it’s a good idea to refresh those documents periodically so third parties don’t consider them to be “stale” such that your loved ones have trouble using them when needed most.

40-50: Unless there’s been a change in your circumstances, and assuming you’ve set a good plan in place in your 20s and 30s, you may only need to review your plan, if there have been changed circumstances in your life or significant changes in the law that might affect your planning.

50-70: Once you’ve hit your 50s, it’s time to take a regular look. Your children are probably grown. You may have grandchildren. And, hopefully, you’ve accumulated some wealth. The people you appointed to step in in the event of incapacity when you were younger may not be able to help when you’re 65. You may have retired or are contemplating doing so. And, unfortunately, the chances of disability or death increase with every year.

70+:  Now it’s time to review your plan at least every three years or so. Changes happen — to your health and that of your loved ones, to the tax laws, to the programs supporting long-term care or disability care. It’s important to have a plan in place and to adjust it as circumstances change, especially health circumstances.

Change in Circumstances. While the timeline above outlines when you should review and perhaps update your estate plan based on age alone, it needs to be supplemented by the following potential changes in circumstances that would warrant a review of your plan to see if it still meets your goals and needs:

Marriage. You’re likely to want your assets to go to your spouse and to name him or her to be your agent in the event of incapacity.

Divorce. Likewise, if you get divorced, you probably won’t want your assets to go to your ex-spouse or to rely upon him or her to step in if you were to become incapacitated.

Children. Once you have children, you’ll want to provide for them and to name someone to step in as guardian in the event of your death or incapacity and that of their other parent, if any. Generally, once you have a plan in place you do not have to update it if you have more children.

Health Diagnosis and Disability. If you have a serious health diagnosis, you may want to review your estate planning documents to consider these changed circumstances. Likewise, if you or someone who would inherit from you becomes disabled, you will need to plan to protect and manage your assets, whether for yourself or for your beneficiaries.

New Business or Increased Wealth. If you begin or inherit a business, this will likely warrant some changes to your estate planning documents.  Also, if you accumulate sufficient assets to exceed the thresholds for state and federal estate taxes — $11.4 million federally under current law (though this may change to a much lower amount under the current Biden administration) — you may want to plan to reduce or eliminate such taxes.

Moving. If you move to a new state or country, it will be important to have your estate plan reviewed to make sure it works in the new jurisdiction.

Death.  If your spouse or a child dies, this is another time to review your estate planning documents.

In short, as you age, it becomes more and more important to frequently review your estate planning documents. But do so whenever you have a change in circumstances such as those listed above. Having a review at least every five years is a good rule of thumb in any event to ensure that your documents stay legally up-to-date.

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