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Three Things to Know About Updating Your Estate Plan

By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

Very few things in life are certain or predictable. The very nature of life is that it is unpredictable, and changes occur constantly. Really, the uncertainty of life is what makes it interesting. My favorite line from the movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks illustrates this. When he was talking about how he survived being stranded and how he eventually got off the island, he says he survived and was rescued because he learned that, “tomorrow the sun will rise, and who knows what the tide will bring in.” By being prepared for the changes that could happen he was ready when they did happen.  

However, the uncertainty of life can also cause a good deal of concern and stress to individuals. This is true even when they have either completed their estate planning or are thinking about getting it done. Many times, clients will ask me what the point is when they know that life is going to be changing rapidly. The main reason for getting estate planning done is to provide protections for yourself while you are alive and to plan on how to distribute your money, property, and other assets after you have passed away.

The uncertainty and unpredictability of life are the very reasons why you should get your estate-planning done. These are also the reasons why you should keep your estate-planning updated whenever the circumstances in your life change. Our team of premier Idaho estate planning attorneys understand this. We have helped numerous clients craft and update their estate plans in Idaho for more than 70 years. We have the skill, knowledge, and experience to understand how estate planning can help you and your family and the kinds of updates that should be made when the circumstances of your life change.

So, what are the most important things that you should know about updating your estate plan? Here are the top three:

1. Why Should I Update My Estate Plan?

As we stated above, life doesn’t just stand still. It’d be great if we could come up with a concrete plan that would provide us with a never-ending supply of unicorns and rainbows for the rest of our lives. Just reading that sentence makes me laugh because of how absurd it is. We all understand and know that life is going to change for us. We also understand that we have to be prepared for these changes in order to be able to move forward with life in a meaningful way.

As was mentioned above, the main purpose for getting estate planning done is to protect you individually while you are alive. The second main reason is to give you the ability to provide instructions on how you want your money, assets, and property to be distributed after you have died. In other words, you get to decide who will get the things that you own. You also get to decide who will be in charge of your estate after you have passed away to make sure that the instructions you leave or actually followed.

In addition to dealing with your money and property, you also have the opportunity to make plans for any children you have that are under the age of 18. You get to nominate who the legal guardian for your children will be. You also get the opportunity to have a concrete plan in place that will assist your young children financially until they reach an age where they can care for themselves. Any major life change that could occur to you during your lifetime could impact the decisions you made about these specific things. As a result, keeping your estate plan updated is an important way of knowing that you have a plan in place to care for yourself, your family and your loved ones.

2. What is a Major Life Change?

So, what is a major life change that could have an impact on your estate planning? Major life changes include those things that you would expect. Specifically, they would include either you or someone in your family getting married or getting divorced. It would also include the birth of a family member, the death of a family member, or you or another family member moving away. It could also include just the passage of a long period of time. Any of these things could have an impact on how your estate-planning works and whether it accomplishes what you want.

For example, let’s suppose for a moment that you are married, and you have three small children. You get your estate planning done so that it includes your spouse and your children. Now let’s suppose that a few years go by and a couple of these major life changes have happened to you. Specifically let’s suppose that you got divorced and that one of your children passed away. Your original estate plan, which included the person who is then your spouse, and the child who was alive at the time you created your estate plan is now much different. Your circumstances in life have changed. As a result, you should update your estate plan to reflect these new circumstances in your life.

So how is it that you would know that your estate plan needs to be updated? It’s really quite simple. All you need to do is take your estate plan out and read it through. If you do, and you have gone through any of the major life changes listed above, you will immediately see the parts of your estate plan that need to be updated or changed. Continuing with the example used above, if you are no longer married to the spouse you were when your estate plan was created, you will need to remove that person’s name from your estate plan.

3. What Happens if I Don’t Update My Estate Plan?

The next question that almost everybody asks me is what happens if I have a major life change occur, but I don’t update my estate planning? While there are some safety nets in place when it comes to divorce, your estate plan will simply be followed even if the circumstances in your life have changed and the things in your estate plan really don’t reflect what you now want. The reason for this is that the purpose of estate planning is to give you the ability to provide specific instructions about what you do want and what you do not want to happen. The purpose of the law is to carry out your plan. If you have not updated your estate plan, the law will assume that the instructions you have in your estate planning documents are what you wanted, and the law will require that these instructions be followed.

The key is to not get overwhelmed by the whole process. We have assisted numerous clients in updating their estate plans when they have gone through a major life change. We are confident that we can assist you in updating your estate plan to make sure that it reflects your current wishes.

Enlist an Idaho Estate Planning Attorney to Help You

Our team of Idaho lawyers can help you with any of your estate planning or probate needs. Whether you are seeking to create or review an estate plan for yourself or would like to help a loved one, we are available to discuss your options and answer your questions at an initial consultation. Call us toll free at 877.232.6101 or 208.232.6101 for a consultation. You can also email us directly at lane@racineolson.com or stop by our office at 201 East Center Street, Pocatello, Idaho 83201. We will answer your questions and help you solve your Idaho Estate Planning problems.

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