When Should You Update Your Estate Planning Documents? The Five Ds

Legal documents are meant to reflect your current life circumstances and wishes, so they should change as your life does. In the estate planning world, we refer to the “5 Ds.” These are significant shifts that can serve as reminders to consider updating your documents.

  1. Divorce (or Marriage)- If your marital status changes, you should revisit the people you have named as your agents to make medical or financial decisions on your behalf, the Personal Representative of your estate, and the trustee of any trusts. You probably want to reconsider who you have named as the beneficiary to receive the assets controlled by your Will. Finally, don’t forget to look at the beneficiaries designated on any non-probate assets, such as life insurance policies or retirement accounts. Imagine your surprise from beyond the grave that you mistakenly left significant assets to your ex-spouse!
  2. Decade- We also recommend that you review your documents at least every ten years (and more often if you 60+). Even if nothing about your family has changed, there may have been changes to relevant laws. Check in with an attorney to assure that your documents still do the jobs you intended. It could make sense to sign an identical document with a new date to “refresh” it (especially powers of attorney for finances), as banks and other financial institutions will sometimes hesitate to honor older documents.
  3. Death- If a close relative passes away, there are a few reasons you should revisit your estate plan. Perhaps you are in line to receive an inheritance that changes your financial picture and necessitates different planning. Or maybe the deceased relative was named as one of your fiduciaries, and you now need to select a replacement Agent, Personal Representative, or Trustee for your documents.
  4. Decline- If you or your partner experience a notable decline in physical or mental health, you will want to make sure your estate planning documents include planning for potential long-term care costs. There are many different strategies elder law attorneys can employ to preserve assets within a family. These strategies range from what we refer to at our office as “proactive planning” to “crisis planning.” Whatever stage you are facing, there is likely something we can do to help save money in the long term.
  5. Diagnosis- A new diagnosis (either cognitive or physical) should also prompt a review of your documents. Although similar to “Decline,” this “D” may allow for more proactive planning, giving you an early warning that long-term care costs are in your future, or signaling which partner to whom it is prudent to transfer ownership of assets. While legal concerns may take a backseat to medical and emotional ones in the face of a new diagnosis, we encourage you not to put off visiting a trusted attorney for too long.

All the occasions to update an estate plan mean many opportunities to work with an attorney, making the relationship you have with your elder law/estate planning attorney a unique one. You will feel more motivated to give your documents the second and third looks life may require if you have found an attorney or office with which you can build a rapport. We hope you will feel comfortable enough to keep the Five Ds in mind and visit or revisit us at Maine Elder Law.

Rachel Trafton, Esq
Maine Elder Law Firm