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Is your estate plan outdated and vulnerable?

As soon as you take the time to properly create your will and estate plan, you may feel a sense of great relief wash over you. "Whatever happens in the future," you may think to yourself, "At least I've taken care of that and can stop thinking about doing it sometime in the future!" The peace of mind that a strong estate plan can offer is substantial. It is also important to understand that your will and other estate plan documents are not something that you should create once and never look at again.

In many ways, creating your estate plan is like building a house and maintaining it. Most of the time, if you build your home thoughtfully and do not rush or cut corners in the planning phase, your home will be just fine with some small ongoing maintenance. However, if you ignore issues that can cause major damage or if you experience a significant change in circumstances, the home may develop serious problems that leave you vulnerable.

In the same way, a well-built estate plan and will may offer good protections and benefits, but should not be locked away in a safe and forgotten for decades at a time. Changes in your life may conflict with the wishes laid out in your will, and new estate planning laws can complicate an estate plan that doesn't take them into account.

Changes in your personal relationships

Among other things, your will identifies the people and organizations that you want receive your property when you pass away. Over time, these relationships may change or may disappear altogether, and it is important for your will to express these changes.

Consider reviewing your will any time you gain or lose a beneficiary relationship. This may include your own marriage or divorce, the marriage and divorce of your family members, or the death or adoption of a family member, among other things.

If your will includes provisions for beneficiaries who are minors at the time of the will's creation, then you should review it when they reach the age of adulthood. While you may still wish to include them as beneficiaries, they may no longer qualify as dependents.

Non-family relationships may also change from time to time, and it is wise to review your will any time that this happens, whether with an individual or with an organization.

Changes in your estate

You may also find that your will does not reflect reality, if your estate grows or shrinks significantly over time. If, for instance, you own a parcel of land and wish to divide it among several family members, you'll want to update your will if you accumulate more land or if you lose the land you have.

It is also important to understand that estate planning laws can shift significantly without your hearing about it. To avoid complications, it is wise to review your will once every four or five years, even if you don't experience any other life changes. Doing so helps you keep your priorities in line and protects your rights and legacy.

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