10 Life Events That Should Trigger an Estate Plan Review

Congratulations – You took the first step and set up an estate plan. You’ve made the right decision to protect your family in case something happens to you.  But before you stick the papers in a drawer, you need to think about when you should plan on taking another look at the documents. 

Even the best estate plans can become less effective when certain things happen in life. You should talk with a California estate planning attorney when any of these 10 life events occur:

10 Events That Should Trigger an Estate Plan Review

1. You get married. 

Once you get married, or enter into a domestic partnership, your spouse may have rights of inheritance. Getting married can therefore make your previous will or trust invalid. Even if you have a prenuptial agreement that waives your inheritance rights from each other, you should update your will or trust to make sure it clearly states your intentions. If you do not make a new will or trust, your current documents may become unclear or ineffective.   Your executor or trustee may be forced to go to court unnecessarily, and the judge may rule that the documents apply differently from what you intended, or that they don’t apply at all. In short, family law and probate law principles may be inconsistent. But a well-drafted, updated estate plan can often resolve any inconsistencies.

2. You get divorced. 

You might assume that your work is done when your divorce case finally makes its way through court.  But you will need to take care of many more details after the smoke clears. One of these items is making a new estate plan. A divorce can invalidate your will or trust, and you do not want to die intestate or with a plan that doesn’t accurately carry out your wishes.  Again, a well-drafted, updated estate plan will reflect and acknowledge any changes that arise due to your divorce or separation from your spouse.

3. A child or grandchild is born or adopted.

One of the most common reasons that your surviving heirs may contest your will or trust is when your instruments do not mention all of the children or grandchildren. Your documents might include the term “afterborns,” to refer to children born or adopted after you signed your will or trust, or “issue,” to refer to any of your descendants.  But to help prevent problems with your estate or trust administration after you’re gone, it is best to update your papers to reflect your current family members. You should also review your documents if you or one of your beneficiaries adopt a stepchild.

4. Your child marries. 

Whether you love or hate the person your child marries, you might want to have a discussion with your estate planning lawyer when your child marries to ensure your estate plan remains effective as you intend. Depending on the circumstances, you might consult with your estate planning attorney to name your new in-law in your papers — either to make sure they receive a benefit, or, to the contrary,  or get advice on how to protect your child’s inheritance from a potential gold-digger.

5. Your child divorces. 

Many things change when your child divorces. Your relationship with your child’s former spouse is seldom the same as before. Your estate planning lawyer can advise you on any updates that might be appropriate in your situation.

6. Your spouse dies

When your spouse dies, you have a mountain of decisions to make and steps to take while dealing with your grief and loss. You should immediately seek out a estate and trust administration attorney to ensure you take all actions necessary or advisable to administer your spouse’s estate or trust.  When the initial crisis is behind you, it can be a good idea to review and update your will or trust. Most people leave a significant portion of their estate to their spouse. You will need to think about who will get the assets that your spouse would have received.

7. Your child, son or daughter-in-law, or grandchild dies. 

You likely mentioned your child, your child’s spouse, and your grandchildren in your will or trust. If any of these people predecease you, it is appropriate to update your documents so that there will be clarity about the distribution of your assets.

8. You get a windfall. 

When you initially set up your estate plan, you of course considered your financial condition at that time. If you suddenly receive a windfall, like a significant inheritance, a winning lottery ticket, or proceeds from a personal injury lawsuit, you might want to reconsider your future beneficiaries. You may be able to help charities, for example, that you could not have given money to before.

9. You have a drastic change in your financial condition. 

While a windfall is a happy reason to update your will or trust, you should also take another look at your will or trust if you experience an economic downturn. You might not be able to make some of the bequests you included in your estate plan, and you may need to rethink some of those future gifts.

10. The passage of time. 

Sometimes your estate plan could use a few tweaks because of an accumulation of many small events instead of one substantial change of circumstance. State and federal laws change every year, potentially affecting issues like estate taxes and other taxes. Most legal and financial advisors recommend that you talk with an estate planning lawyer once every four or five years to keep your papers current.

Contact us today for a consultation. Our attorneys, including Certified Specialists in Estate Planning and Probate, can guide you through the estate planning process and provide suggestions for how to accomplish your goals and desires for your loved ones.