The Five Ds: When to Call Your Elder Law Attorney

You met with an elder law or estate planning attorney, discussed your goals, and signed documents reflecting your wishes. With a sigh of relief, you store your documents away and check that item off your to-do list. But wait! Don’t forget to mark your calendar and check in with an attorney from time-to-time. Estate planning documents may become outdated as changes occur with your family, finances, or health circumstances, and changes in the law.

When should you update your documents? Keep in mind these “Five D’s:” decline, diagnosis, death, divorce, and decade.

Decline and Diagnosis

If you or your spouse experience a decline in health or receive a diagnosis, especially Alzheimer’s or dementia, you should check in with your elder law attorney. Your attorney will ensure that your documents continue to meet your needs. There are also planning strategies to protect assets from long-term care expenses. Having the right plan in place can help you and your family navigate these new life circumstances.


First and foremost, take time to grieve and be with your family following the death of a loved one. It is not usually necessary to call your attorney immediately. When you are ready to revisit your estate plan, you may decide to update the fiduciaries or beneficiaries you previously chose. You may also need to plan for assets that have transferred to you following the death of your loved one.


If you and your spouse get divorced, you will certainly need to update your estate planning documents. But also consider whether your documents need to be updated due to the divorce of someone else in your family. For example, if your child gets divorced, is there concern about protecting assets for grandchildren from the child’s other parent? Or perhaps you need to remove your child’s ex-spouse as your nominated agent or personal representative.


Even if nothing else changes, you should still check in with your elder law or estate planning attorney at least every ten years. Financial institutions are often reluctant to honor older financial powers of attorney, and your agent may find it more challenging to use the document to act on your behalf. Health care professionals may hesitate before relying on a dated advance health care directive, wondering whether the patient signed a new document more recently. And finally, changes in the law may require updated documents or a revised plan.

While estate planning or long-term care planning can feel like just another item to check off your list, it is really an evolving process that needs to be revisited and tweaked as life unfolds. If any of these Five D’s apply to you, and you want to review your plan, please give us a call at (207) 947-6500.

Categories: Uncategorized