Maybe you just recently signed your estate planning documents. Maybe your documents have been sitting in a drawer or firebox, sight unseen, for five or more years. Either way, a common question is: When do I need to update my estate plan?

Estate documents generally are written to provide some flexibility in case you do not have an opportunity to make changes. This is why you typically name multiple successor trustees, indicate who should inherit your assets if your original beneficiary predeceases you, or name who you want to take care of you and your affairs if you are incapacitated.

Still, while there are some changes contemplated by your estate documents, and some things you may be comfortable with even if not your primary intention, redrafting, amending or revising your documents and plan is usually preferable to relying on stale provisions when circumstances change.

If one of the following events occurs, it may be time to reconsider your estate plan:

Family reasons:

  • Become engaged, married or divorced
  • Add or lose a family member
  • Child reaches majority
  • Child or spouse develops addiction
  • Family discord
  • Family member needs special care or treatment

Life changes:

  • Become disabled or are diagnosed with a serious or terminal illness
  • Move to a new state (and, if married, move to or from a community property state)
  • Plan significant travel
  • Buy a home

Financial reasons:

  • Receive a large inheritance or win the lottery
  • Get promoted or fired
  • Retire
  • Start or close a business
  • Decide to make a significant donation to charity

Legal reasons:

  • Income tax rules change for the better or worse
  • Estate, gift and GST tax rules change for the better or worse
  • Government adds new restrictions or privileges

Trustee/personal representative issues:

  • Meet someone new or better suited
  • Trustee or representative dies or moves
  • Have a falling out