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We are frequently asked how often one should update his or her last will and testament or an estate plan. The answer: it depends on your situation. When we work with estate planning clients to put a will in place, execute powers of attorney or create a trust, we attempt to include in these legal documents some flexibility so they will remain valid working documents for a reasonable period of time. There are, however, life events that will necessitate an update or change to a will or other estate planning documents. Here are a few times when you should update your will or estate plan:

  1. If you move to another state, the laws may be different. It’s a good idea to have an estate planning attorney in your new location update your documents to ensure they comply with the laws in that state.
  2. Likewise, if individual(s) you have named to act on your behalf under your prior estate planning documents have moved or have had life changing events that make it unrealistic to fulfill their roles, you may wish to update your documents or consider using a revocable trust to avoid probate when your named executors are expected to handle your estate from a distance.
  3. Many married couples have standard wills naming the other as beneficiary of all assets. If you divorce, you will probably want to update your will and other legal documents. Don’t forget to name a new beneficiary on all insurance policies, your 401(k), etc., if appropriate.
  4. Having children also requires an update to your will and other documents. You will need to name a legal guardian to care for your children in the event of your death or if you become incapacitated. Again, you may wish to update assets to name your children as secondary beneficiaries after your spouse. After your children have reached adulthood, another update might be in order.
  5. If you become responsible for the care of a disabled person, be it a child born with special needs or an elderly parent who becomes incapacitated, you may wish to speak to an estate planning attorney to take the extra steps needed to provide for this loved ones’ care in the event you predecease this individual.
  6. The death of a spouse or other primary beneficiary is another time after which you will want to update your estate plans.
  7. A major change in your assets or simply a change in your priorities may also signal that it’s time for a change. Many people do not have close family they would name as beneficiaries, and may wish instead to leave their estates to charity. A discussion on planned giving with an estate planning counselor might be in order.

Barring a major life change, we recommend you review your will and other estate planning documents every three years. If there have been no significant changes in your life, these documents are probably fine. If you have experienced a life change or have questions about your documents, you may wish to schedule an appointment with an estate planning attorney.