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Rolling with the flow: Updating your estate plan

Hardly a year passes that doesn't bring some change in a person's life. If you look back over the past year, you may recall weddings, divorces, births and deaths within your family. You will also remember a presidential election, changes in tax laws and fluctuations in your investments. Perhaps you moved, changed jobs, retired or remarried. While many of these events seem like the natural flow of life, they can have a great impact on your estate plan.

Common alterations

Estate planning advisors recommend a review of your plan every few years or after any major life event. Those events may overwhelm a family for a time, and during the planning for a wedding or grieving at a funeral, you may not be thinking about how the event will alter your plans for the future. However, such events may drastically affect your estate plan.

For example, are the beneficiaries of your will, trust, insurance policies and pension up to date? Checking this factor frequently will reduce the chances that someone will be left out or someone will receive an inheritance that you did not intend. For example:

  • Did you recently divorce? Is your former spouse still a beneficiary?
  • Have you remarried? Did you include your new spouse in your will?
  • Have your children married? Do you intend to include their spouses in your plan?
  • Have any of your beneficiaries died?
  • Are there new children, stepchildren or grandchildren in your family that you intend to name in your will?

In addition to updating your beneficiaries, advisors recommend that you check all documents and accounts for consistency. Using your legal name on every account is the best policy. If one document excludes your "Junior" or uses your nickname, it may cause confusion and delay during the administration of your estate.

Professional help with reviewing your plan

Even if you have not experienced any major life changes since you created your estate plan, it is possible that the laws have changed or that new options appropriate for your circumstances have developed. You may not even remember those whom you designated as beneficiaries or trustees, and revisiting those documents might cause you to reconsider.

Allowing an estate planning attorney to review your documents may benefit you. Your attorney can advise you on any adjustments or amendments that may improve the distribution of your assets and confirm that your documents express what you intended. Periodically examining your estate plan will ensure that your wishes are up to date and relevant.

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