Ask the Expert: How Can I Update A Will I Established 10 Years Ago?

Q. How can I update the Will that I established when I was in the military approximately 10 years ago?

Asked on AVVO by a resident of Springfield, VA

Evan Farr Fredericksburg Elder Law

A. Just as a car needs regular maintenance, your estate planning documents need to be updated or redone, especially if it has been 10 years since you have done so.

Before you do so, please keep in mind that rather than using a Will to distribute your estate at death, you want to consider using a Revocable Living Trust.

A Revocable Living Trust (RLT) generally:

  • provides for the creator of the trust (and, if applicable, the creator’s spouse) to have full use of the trust income and principal for life;
  • allows for the assets to continue to be held in trust (or be distributed), upon the death of the creator, for the benefit of the named beneficiaries, such as the grantor’s children;
  • avoids probate, so the trust assets may be quickly distributed according to the terms of the trust, without the delay, fees, and public exposure of probate;
  • is recommended for anyone who owns or may in the future acquire real estate in more than one State, because without an RLT your estate will have to go through probate in both States;
  • can provide how the real estate and other trust property is to be distributed at death (as with a Will, you can provide for any number of special situations);
  • provides uninterrupted management of your assets by your trustee if you become incapacitated.

Read more about Revocable Living Trusts on our website.

Once you have met with a Certified Elder Law Attorney, such as Evan H. Farr, and created an RLT and other estate planning documents, such as a Financial Power of Attorney and Advance Medical Directive, you need to make sure you update them regularly (at least every 1-3 years, depending on the document). This is the only way to ensure that your estate plan truly reflects who you are, what you care about, and what you have.

So, when are updates needed?  Have there been any changes in your family structure, financial circumstances, or health? The list below pinpoints certain examples of events that could have a significant impact on your estate.

  • You get married or divorced
  • Your spouse dies or becomes incapacitated
  • You become ill or disabled
  • You have a new child
  • Your child marries or divorces
  • Your child becomes ill or disabled
  • You have a new grandchild
  • One of your beneficiaries shows signs of being financially irresponsible
  • One of your beneficiaries develops a drug or alcohol problem
  • The value of your assets has significantly increased or decreased
  • You retire or change employment
  • You acquire property in a different state
  • You move to a different state
  • There have been changes in the law that may affect the language of your documents.

Even if no changes are necessary, you should annually sign updated Powers of Attorney. Some financial institutions won’t accept a Power of Attorney more than a year old. Similarly, the older an Advance Medical Directive is, the less likely it is that it will be honored by a doctor or hospital.

Don’t let too much time pass between reviews of your plan. The cost of a review is minimal; but the cost to your family if you neglect your plan could be disastrous.  If any of these changes have happened to you or if you haven’t updated your estate plan in the last few years, the time is now. Call our Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm to update your estate plan! Ask about The Farr Law Firm’s Lifetime Protection Program, which ensures that your documents are properly reviewed and updated as needed, so that they will have the proper effect under the law.

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.