Ask The Expert: I have estate planning documents I signed 5 years ago, is that fine?

posted by: Alexis Martin Neely Personal Family Lawyer

A common (and unfortunate) misconception is that estate planning is something you can do once and never look at again. Estate planning is an ongoing process that should be reconsidered at least every three years because your assets will change, your life will change, and very often the law will change.

For example, within the past few years, a new law went into affect called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA. This new law now requires special language to be included in all Health Care Directives or they will no longer work because the person you’ve named as your health care agent won’t be able to get access to your medical records to make decisions on your behalf. If your estate plan is not updated to take this into account, it won’t work for your family.

And, you must make sure that all of your assets are owned throughout your lifetime in the right way. Time and time again I see situations in which people think they’ve got everything taken care of because they signed estate planning documents, but then their loved ones are left in the lurch because none of their assets are owned properly. I recommend you looking at this issue at least annually.

Last, the tax laws change frequently and you don’t want to inadvertently subject your family to estate taxes because you didn’t review things thoroughly. Estates are currently subject to tax at a rate of 45% and rates have been as high as 55%, so this is not something you want to overlook. Review your plan with your lawyer at least every three years to make sure it will work when your family needs it.

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