Many folks get their documents in place when they first get married, or after they have their first child. For those of you who did this – good job; you get a gold star. You are way ahead of the game. Unfortunately, some of these people approach estate planning with the mentality of “set it and forget it.” They forget what they put in their documents and/or who they named in various roles, and the documents go un-reviewed and un-updated for many decades, until a life event occurs that requires the use of these documents.
There are several problems with never reviewing or updating your documents. First, the people you named as Personal Representative of your estate or Agent under your durable power of attorney may be long gone. Or, the life circumstance of your beneficiaries may have changed. Maybe you learned later in life that a child of yours has a disability, so that plan you put in place to leave her half of your estate outright would disqualify her from the benefits she is receiving. Maybe you have gotten a divorce and remarried, and you do not want your ex-spouse still named in your documents (shocking, I know!).
There can be other consequences to having old documents. We recently attempted to probate a will that had been signed in the 1960s. Unfortunately, the witnesses who signed the will were dead, and no one who could attest to the witnesses’ signatures was around, either. Therefore, the probate court did not allow the will to be probated at all.
Frequently, people with old powers of attorney are surprised to learn that many financial institutions will not accept a power of attorney older than 5 or 10 years.
So, back to the original question: When should you update your estate planning documents? We recommend updating them any time you have a significant life event (e.g., the birth of a child, a marriage, a divorce, a remarriage, retirement, an impactful medical diagnosis, etc.). We also recommend you update your documents any time a person you have named to serve in a particular role has died or become otherwise unable to serve. If someone you have named as a beneficiary has died, had a change in life circumstance, or for some other reason you wish to change their status in your documents, you should update your plan. We recommend getting a “fresh” durable power of attorney every 7-10 years, particularly if there is an increased chance you may become incapacitated in the near future. Finally, we recommend reviewing your documents every 3-5 years to remind yourself of what is in them and to decide if it might be time to update them.