We have written extensively about the pitfalls in not having a will. As such, many clients heed that warning and request that their attorney draft a will and other associated estate documents on their behalf. While these clients have taken responsible action and had their estate documents drafted, additional tasks are required. We suggest that estate documents be reviewed and potentially redrafted on a periodic basis for the reasons highlighted in this post.
Most people experience changes in their life and in the lives of those around them that require revision of estate documents. Such internal changes are as follows. Perhaps the executor appointed in the will does not currently get along with the testator (person making the will) or is unable to perform his duties due to illness or death. Maybe the formerly adorable child is now an irresponsible young adult, whose inheritance should be left in a trust. Perhaps an estrangement of relationship has occurred, so that the testator wishes to disinherit a relative. These events are under the knowledge and control of the testator.
Relationships and events may result in the need to revise estate documents. Some of these events are divorce of the testator or adult child, a grandchild’s birth, receipt of inheritance, retirement, and chronic disability. Your attorney will assist you in adjusting your estate documents whether or not such events are joyous.
Of course, external forces may also result in the need for the revision of estate documents. For example, the federal tax reform law enacted late last year may cause the revision of estate plans. The federal estate tax exemption has doubled from $5,600,000 to $11,200,000 and is now quite generous. New York State’s estate tax exemption remains relatively high and will be raised to the federal exemption level by 2019. At this time, most people do not need to act to avoid estate taxes. As such, a will containing a credit shelter trust (which was a mechanism to shield the applicable estate tax amount by leaving such amount in trust for the surviving spouse) can be revised to eliminate the credit shelter trust and allow for the outright inheritance by the surviving spouse.
Whether internal or external forces are at play, one should consider whether her current wishes are reflected in the estate documents. We suggest that you contact experienced estate attorneys and arrange for an estate planning checkup. Should your attorney determine that revisions to your documents or their replacement with entirely new documents is warranted, it remains necessary to have such documents signed in accordance with state law for the signing of wills. As such, supervision of this process by your attorney is required in order to have legally valid documents. We assist our clients in the regular maintenance of their estate plans so that they change with changing circumstances.