Attorneys are often asked how often wills should be updated. There is no cut and dried answer to this question. However, there are a few benchmarks that should trigger someone’s consideration of updating estate planning and advanced directive documents.
Of course, I believe that a will is typically only part of what most people need to have in place to have their affairs in complete order. As I have mentioned in this column previously, in addition to a will, almost everyone should have a financial power of attorney and a healthcare power of attorney. And, for many people, a living will is also advisable.
There are two situations when estate planning documents should be updated, and neither is tied to a specific number of years. First, documents may need to be updated if the law changes. Second, documents should be updated when life circumstances change.
Some attorneys who practice in only limited subject areas, like me, try to treat people with completed work as if they are still active/current clients who want proactive communication when the law changes in a way that may affect them.
However, attorney ethics rules and practicality lead most attorneys to treat each file as either “open” meaning that the attorney still has agreed-upon work to complete or “closed” meaning that the attorney has completed the specific tasks that were previously agreed-upon by the client and attorney.
As a result, if the law changes, your attorney may not proactively contact you. This leads most people to read this column and monitor the news to know when a change in the law may justify updating legal documents.
However, when it comes to life changes, the following life changes are ones for which I advise my clients to contact me to review their documents to see if updates are appropriate:
• Turning 18 years old.
• Getting married.
• Retiring from full-time employment.
• Expecting to need or needing long-term care for self or spouse (like nursing home care).
• Losing a spouse to death or divorce.
• Gaining an in-law (parent, son or daughter).
• Expecting (or actually getting) a first grandchild.
• Imminently or recently having an oldest child turn 18.
• Imminently or recently having an oldest grandchild turn 18.
• Buying or selling real estate, including a home or timeshare.
• Inheriting any significant sum of money.
• Changing post-death distribution wishes or values (for example, joining a new church for which charitable post-death contributions are desired).
• Disruptive life change (for example, chemical dependency or arrest) for someone who is named in your will to be an executor or named as your agent in a power of attorney.
• Establishing or beginning a succession plan for a family-owned business.
Of course, each of these life changes may not necessitate an update to estate planning documents, but they are good factors to consider when deciding whether to contact your attorney.
Notably, life changes happen gradually, so the magnitude of change can appear huge when comparing and contrasting your life at the time when your documents were last prepared and your life now.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.