Your Estate Plan Needs an Update

Estate planning is about preparing for an uncertain future. With a good plan in place, families can rest easy knowing that everything will be taken care of properly when the unexpected happens.

In its most general sense, estate planning is just about having a plan for one’s future. But what if that plan changes? No one lives a static life; our circumstances are always changing as we grow older and build careers and families. Sometimes the changes taking place will throw a wrench into an otherwise good estate plan. When this happens, the estate plan needs to be updated to account for the new circumstances in that person’s life.

While not every change in one’s life requires a change in their estate plan, there are a few common life events that almost always require some adjustments to the plan. Read on to find out if it’s time to update your plan, and if you’re ever unsure about whether your estate plan needs updates, don’t wait on speaking with an estate planning attorney — you never know when your plan will be needed.

New Family Members

One of the most common reasons to update an estate plan is the addition of a new family member. Whether it’s a new baby, a new spouse, or even a new responsibility caring for an adult in need, when there’s a new addition to the family it’s usually time to take another look at the estate plan.

What needs to change? That will depend on the circumstances of the estate plan’s creator both before and after the new addition. If the family member is a new baby and the family didn’t have any children before, then the new parents will need to update their last will and testament or “last will.”

First, they’ll need to designate a guardian for their new child. The last will is the only place to make this designation, and if something happens to the parents prior to choosing a guardian, the decision will be left to the courts. That’s why a last will should be created or updated when someone becomes a new parent.

Even parents with other children will need to consider the question of their guardian designation. Whenever someone chooses a guardian for their estate plan, that person should be contacted to make sure that they are willing and able to do the job. Just because someone agrees to care for one child doesn’t mean they are prepared to take on the responsibility of caring for more.

Many parents plan to ultimately give their assets to their children when they pass away. But what would happen if they were to pass away unexpectedly? If their children were still under the age of 18 and an estate was inherited, the court would need to appoint a property guardian to manage the assets — unless someone is designated in the will.

Another possibility that should be considered when estate planning for minor children is the use of a testamentary trust within the last will to exert additional control over how the assets are managed and distributed if the will’s creator passes away prior to their beneficiaries reaching an age where they are capable of managing their own affairs.

Bottom line – when a new person joins a family, there usually needs to be a discussion about how their addition will affect the estate plan. Anyone in this situation should consult with an attorney who can review their estate plan and present the best options for including the new family member while maintaining the goals of the original plan.


When a divorce occurs it’s imperative to revisit one’s entire estate plan and make the necessary adjustments. Many people name their spouse as their agent or representative on the directives in the estate plan that authorize someone to make medical and financial decisions on one’s behalf.

Depending on how these documents are written, the divorced spouse may automatically lose their standing as a representative of their former partner, however that may not always be the case. Even worse, if no backup has been selected for these roles and the divorced person is removed from them, then there may be no representative to step in when the time is needed. When it comes to making healthcare decisions, this can lead to disastrous consequences.

Divorce proceedings often involve a distribution of the marital assets, and may include property settlement agreements that affect how current assets can be distributed in the future. For these reasons, anyone going through a divorce will need to speak with an estate planning attorney to review their divorce documents and make the necessary adjustments to their last will based on their new circumstances.

Death of a Family Member

Sometimes the death of a family member may have unintended consequences to the estate plan of a living relative. This can be the case for a number of reasons.

First, it’s possible that the deceased family member was named as a fiduciary in the estate plan of their still living relative. Whether it’s as a guardian, executor, trustee or any other role in the last will, the estate plan will need to be updated to name a new person and backups, especially for vitally important roles like a guardian for minor children. It’s not uncommon for new parents to designate their own parents or siblings as guardians. They would logically assume that such close relatives would provide a loving and nurturing home for their minor children, but health issues (and death) as these grandparents, aunts, or uncles age could derail those designations.

In addition, the estate plan will need to be reviewed to see if the recently deceased person was named as a healthcare proxy or agent for a power of attorney. If so, even if backups were named in the document, the backups will step into the role if and when needed and new backups should be named and added to the estate plan immediately. This will avoid any issues that might occur should another person named in the plan become unavailable in the future.

Next, if the recently deceased family member was named as a beneficiary in the last will, certain adjustments may need to be updated. Depending on how the inheritance is structured, the recently deceased family member’s share will either go to their descendants, other members of the family, or lapse altogether.

Phrases like per stirpes and per capita will be important to understand in this situation, and it’s always best to consult with an attorney if someone has concerns about how their assets will be distributed now that their family dynamic has changed.

Increase in Wealth

Everyone desires to increase their wealth as they progress through life. Sometimes this happens slowly through steady promotions and investments. Other times it happens suddenly, through a great business success or a large inheritance. Regardless of the cause, whenever someone finds themselves with substantially more wealth than they had when their estate plan was created, it’s time to review the plan and determine if updates need to be made.

The most important reason to review an estate plan after one’s wealth increases is to ensure that they have not edged into having a taxable estate. Estate taxes occur at both the state and federal level, and the laws surrounding them are in constant flux. Considering that federal estate taxes can reach 40%, nobody wants to be caught off guard and see a significant portion of their assets go to the government when they pass away.

Fortunately for those who are prepared, estate plans can be structured in ways that avoid or even negate entirely the taxes that would otherwise be imposed. Anyone who believes that they are at or approaching the threshold of a taxable estate should speak with an attorney right away to make sure that their plan addresses this issue.

One more thing to think about for those who have seen a substantial increase in their wealth is the nature of how it is to be distributed upon their death. While it may have made sense at one time to just split their assets up equally and hand them out to their children, if an estate is large enough this approach should be reconsidered.

Children and young adults do not have the best reputation for managing large amounts of money. Nobody wants to see their legacy squandered by the very children it was meant to benefit. Fortunately, with proper planning an individual can exert a great deal of control over when and how their estate gets distributed. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to look at a person’s estate and family circumstances and present the best options for how to structure their estate plan to align with their wishes.

Should I Hire an Attorney?

The above scenarios are just a few of the reasons why an estate plan should be reviewed and potentially updated. As we progress through life and our circumstances change, our plans for the future will naturally change as well. An estate plan is only useful if it accurately reflects the wishes of its creator. When those wishes change, so should the plan.

Unfortunately, many people don’t realize that their estate plan needs to be updated. This can lead to many future problems when the unexpected occurs. Don’t risk leaving your family in a tough situation. Call Rosenblum Law today for a free consultation to discuss whether your estate plan needs to be reviewed.

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