Some estate planning clients change their estate planning frequently as they get older. Estate attorneys suggest reviewing and updating your will every four to five years, or after experiencing a significant life event, to ensure it remains up-to-date. Usually this stems from excessive worry over what will happen when they are gone.
As we go through life, our circumstances and priorities can change. Here are some common reasons why you may need to update your estate plan:
- Changes in family circumstances, such as marriage, divorce, birth, adoption, or death of a loved one
- A move to a new state with different laws and regulations surrounding estate planning
- Acquisition or sale of a significant asset, such as a business or property
- Changes in financial circumstances, such as retirement, inheritance, or winning the lottery
- Changes in personal circumstances, such as a significant health issue or a desire to support a charity
- Changes in tax laws, which may affect the distribution of your assets
- Changes in the intended beneficiaries of your estate, such as changes in relationships or new additions to the family.
So there are valid reasons to update your will and make estate planning updates, but it is important for elders to exercise caution, particularly when altering beneficiaries or the amounts they receive.
A former beneficiary who has been disinherited may file a lawsuit (called a “contest”) after the elder’s death to challenge the elder’s will or trust, resulting in potentially costly litigation to the other beneficiaries of the estate.
While there is nothing anyone can do to prevent a jilted former beneficiary from filing a contest, there are steps the elder can take during his or her life to avoid it:
1. Rather than utilizing do-it-yourself forms or services, it is recommended that elders seeking to update their estate plan should consult with an attorney to discuss their wishes.
2. The elder should consult with his or her primary care physician to have his or her mental capacity evaluated, and obtain a letter from the physician establishing the elder’s capacity.
3. To ensure that their estate planning accurately reflects their true intentions, elders who have created plans favoring non-relatives should consider obtaining an estate plan review from a second attorney.
These steps ensure that impartial witnesses will be able to testify as to the elder’s mental capacity, creating a formidable defense against a will or trust contest. Our Northern California attorneys, located in the Walnut Creek/Danville area of the East Bay are available to assist clients interested in how to create or update an estate plan.