Life Events That Can Trigger a Change to Your Estate Plan

November 15, 2023
Erin Calpin, Esq.

An estate plan is a comprehensive set of legal documents and arrangements that outline how a person's assets and affairs should be managed, distributed, or handled in the event of death or incapacitation. The primary goal of estate planning is to ensure that an individual's wishes are carried out and that assets are transferred efficiently and as directed.

Key components of an estate plan may include:

1. Will: A legal document that specifies how a person's assets should be distributed after death. It can also designate guardians for minor children and specify other preferences.

2. Trusts: Trusts are legal arrangements that allow a third party, or trustee, to hold and manage assets on behalf of beneficiaries. Trusts can be useful for avoiding probate, providing for minor children, and managing assets for specific purposes.

3. Power of Attorney: This document grants someone the authority to make financial or medical decisions on behalf of the individual who may become incapacitated.

4. Healthcare Directive (Living Will): This outlines an individual's preferences for medical treatment in case he or she is unable to communicate. It may include decisions about life support, organ donation, and other medical interventions.

5. Beneficiary Designations: Many assets, such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts, allow individuals to name beneficiaries. These designations override instructions in a will, so they should be kept up-to-date.

6. Letter of Intent: This is a non-binding document that provides additional instructions and details about the distribution of assets, funeral arrangements, or other specific wishes.

7. Guardianship Designations: If the estate plan includes minor children, it may specify who will assume guardianship in the event that the parents are unable to care for them.

Estate planning is not only for the wealthy; it is important for anyone who wants to have a say in how their affairs are handled after they are no longer able to make those decisions. Consulting with legal and financial professionals can help individuals create a tailored estate plan based on specific needs and circumstances. Keep in mind that laws regarding estate planning can vary by jurisdiction, so it's essential to ensure that the plan complies with local regulations.

When Should an Estate Plan Be Updated?

Regularly reviewing and updating your estate plan is crucial to ensure that it accurately reflects your current wishes and financial situation. Life events and changes in the law may prompt the need for updates. Here are some common scenarios that may indicate it's time to review and possibly revise your estate plan:

1. Change in Family Status:

  • Marriage, divorce, or remarriage
  • Birth or adoption of a child or grandchild
  • Death of a family member or beneficiary

2. Financial Changes:

  • Significant increase or decrease in assets
  • Changes in income or financial goals
  • Acquisition or sale of real estate or business interests

3. Relocation:

  • Moving to a different state or country may necessitate updates due to varying state or international laws.

4. Changes in Health:

  • Diagnosis of a serious illness or disability
  • Decline in health that affects decision-making capacity

5. Changes in Relationships:

  • Estrangement from a family member or a falling out with a chosen executor, trustee, or guardian

6. Changes in Laws:

  • Changes in tax laws or other relevant legal regulations that may affect your estate plan

7. Review Every Few Years:

  • Even if there are no major life changes, it's a good idea to review your estate plan every few years to ensure it still aligns with your goals and any changes in the law.

8. Business Changes:

  • If you own a business, changes in ownership structure or business partnerships may require updates to your estate plan.

9. Changes in Goals or Priorities:

  • If your priorities or goals have shifted, such as charitable giving preferences or changes in how you want your assets distributed.

10. Review of Beneficiary Designations:

  • Regularly check and update beneficiary designations on retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and other assets.

It's advisable to consult with legal and financial professionals when considering updates to your estate plan. They can provide guidance based on your specific circumstances and help ensure that your plan remains valid and effective. Keeping your estate plan current helps prevent unintended consequences and ensures that your wishes are carried out as intended.

Why You Should Work With an Estate Planning Attorney On Estate Plan Changes

Working with an estate planning attorney when making changes to your estate plan offers several important advantages. Here are key reasons why consulting with a legal professional is advisable:

1. Legal Expertise: Estate planning involves complex legal processes and documentation. An experienced estate planning attorney possesses the necessary legal knowledge and expertise to guide you through the intricacies of creating, updating, or modifying your estate plan. They can ensure that your documents comply with current laws and regulations, reducing the risk of legal challenges in the future.

2. Tailored Advice: Estate planning is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. An attorney can provide personalized advice based on your unique circumstances, financial situation, and specific goals. They can help you make informed decisions that align with your wishes and address potential challenges that may arise in the administration of your estate.

3. Avoiding Common Pitfalls: Estate planning attorneys are familiar with the potential pitfalls and mistakes that individuals may encounter when creating or amending their plans. Their experience allows them to anticipate issues that might arise and implement strategies to minimize the likelihood of disputes, delays, or unintended consequences.

4. Keeping Documents Current: Laws and regulations pertaining to estate planning can change over time. An attorney can help ensure that your estate plan remains up-to-date and in compliance with any new legal requirements. This is particularly crucial because outdated or non-compliant documents may lead to complications during the probate process or the administration of your estate.

5. Handling Complex Assets: If you have complex financial arrangements, such as business interests, multiple properties, or diverse investment portfolios, an estate planning attorney can provide guidance on how to structure your plan to address these complexities. They can help you develop strategies for efficient asset distribution and tax planning.

6. Facilitating Family Communication: Estate planning can sometimes involve sensitive family dynamics. An attorney can act as a neutral third party, helping to facilitate open communication among family members and addressing potential conflicts. This proactive approach can contribute to a smoother transition of assets and minimize the likelihood of disputes among heirs.

7. Updates and Maintenance: Life circumstances change, and so should your estate plan. Regularly consulting with an attorney ensures that your plan evolves with your life, accounting for changes in relationships, finances, and laws. This ongoing relationship allows for timely updates and adjustments to keep your estate plan current and effective.

In summary, collaborating with an estate planning attorney when making changes to your estate plan provides you with legal expertise, tailored advice, and the assurance that your plan is well-crafted, up-to-date, and capable of meeting your unique needs and objectives. This proactive approach can save time, mitigate risks, and provide peace of mind for you and your loved ones.


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Borenstein, McConnell & Calpin, P.C. is a Wills & Estate Planning law firm serving Central and Northern New Jersey, as well as New York City. We strive not only to give you a great client experience, but to become your trusted adviser for life. To reach Alec, please send an email to

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