Does Your Will Need a Thorough Cleaning or Just a Refresher?

By Stephen J. Silverberg
New York Elder Law Attorney

As a BBQ maven, I spend a fair amount of time making sure that my tools are well maintained. They take much abuse from high heat, charred fats, and sauces. The results are delicious, but the tools get messy.

Your estate plan faces more challenges than you may know. That’s why you need to review your estate plans. Sometimes all they need is a quick swipe, and other times, they need a thorough overhaul.

Here’s why, as detailed in a good article from Forbes, titled “Why You Should Change Your Will Now.”

There have been a lot of changes in the law regarding estate plans and taxes. Opportunities that were not available five, ten, or fifteen years ago could make the planning you did originally useless. Alternatively, there may have been changes in your financial situation that don’t work for your original will, or your will may be invalid.

Financial institutions are very cautious about Power of Attorney forms. If your Power of Attorney forms are older than five years, your loved ones will have a problem when they try to use them.

Let’s say that your financial situation improved dramatically in the last five years, but you never updated your will. You left a share of some small, unknown startup company to a nephew, thinking it might not be worth much, but you wanted him to have something. Today that startup is a global brand worth millions. Still, want to leave it to your nephew, or should your kids get it?

For parents with babies or teens when they created their estate plan, family situations may have changed. If your oldest daughter married someone whom you don’t trust, there are ways for you to ensure that she inherits assets that her husband can’t easily access.

What if you have an adult child with a substance abuse problem? Unfortunately, this touches many families today. There are planning strategies used to protect your child and ensure that they receive some financial support, using a trust with more control than one that distributes a certain amount of money at set ages.

A couple who did their estate plan while they were in their 40s and enjoying good health needs to review their estate plan if they are now in their 60s with health issues on the horizon. If either family’s relatives have diabetes, dementia, or other diseases that run in families, they likely need additional documents to prepare for several varying situations.

Any big change, like moving to a new state, divorce, death, birth, or marriage requires a review of the will. If one spouse dies, the will may have been originally prepared to continue to work for the surviving spouse, but many circumstances may have changed. It’s time for a review.

Grandchildren are perhaps the happiest reason to revise a will. Grandparents who want to help pay for college or summer camp expenses, or set up a trust fund so the money will be available later in their grandchildren’s lives, can do so as part of their estate plan. There are several strategies to make this happen in the most tax-efficient manner.

Wills and estate plans are not “set it and forget it” documents. They reflect individual lives and of the laws of the time. If it’s been years since you’ve been in our office to review your will (over three or four), please call the office at 516-307-1236 and make an appointment for a review.

About the Author
Stephen J. Silverberg is nationally recognized as a leader in the areas of estate planning, estate administration, asset preservation planning, and elder law. He is a past president of the prestigious National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), and a founding member and past president of the New York State chapter of NAELA.