How frequently you should review your estate plan depends on how old you are and whether there has been a significant change in your circumstances. If you are over age 60 and you haven't updated your estate plan in many decades, it's almost certain that you need to update your documents. After that, you should review your plan every five years or so. But if you're younger, you don't need to do so nearly as often.

Age

Here are a few age ranges and what they mean in terms of estate planning:

18-30   Everyone needs a durable power of attorney, health care proxy and HIPAA release so that they have people they choose to step in and make decisions for them in the event of incapacity.

30-40   Once you begin accumulating assets, get married, and have children, it's important to create an estate plan to care for your loved ones in the event of your death. It also can't hurt to update your durable power of attorney, health care proxy and HIPAA release, since the people you may have appointed at 18 (your parents?) may not be the people you want in these roles at 35.

40-60   Unless there's been a change in your circumstances, and assuming you've set a good plan in place during your 30s, you probably don't need to review your estate plan during your 40s and 50s.

60-70   Once you've hit your 60s, it's time to take a look. Your children are probably grown. You may have grandchildren. And, hopefully, you've accumulated some wealth. The people you appointed to step in in the event of incapacity when you were 35 may not be in a position to assist when you're 65. You may have retired or are contemplating doing so. And, unfortunately, the chances of disability or death increase with every year.

70+   Now it's time to review your plan every five years or so. Changes happen -- to your health and that of your loved ones, to the tax laws, to the programs supporting long-term care or disability care. It's important to have a plan in place and to adjust it as circumstances change.

Change in Circumstances

While the timeline above outlines when you should review and perhaps update your estate plan, it needs to be supplemented by the following potential changes in circumstances that would warrant a review of your plan to see if it still meets your goals and needs:

  • Marriage. You're likely to want your assets to go to your spouse and to name him or her to be your agent in the event of incapacity.
  • Divorce. Likewise, if you get divorced, you probably won't want your assets to go to your ex-spouse or to rely upon him or her to step in if you were to become incapacitated.
  • Children. Once you have children, you'll want to provide for them and to name someone to step in as guardian in the event of your death or incapacity and that of their other parent, if any. Generally, once you have a plan in place you do not have to update it if you have more children.
  • Disability. If you or someone who would inherit from you becomes disabled, you will need to plan to protect and manage your assets, whether for yourself or for your beneficiaries.
  • Wealth. If you accumulate sufficient assets to exceed the thresholds for state and federal estate taxes -- $11.4 million federally -- you may want to plan to reduce or eliminate such taxes.
  • Moving. If you move to a new state or country, it will be important to have your estate plan reviewed to make sure it works in the new jurisdiction.

In short, until you reach age 60 or 70, reviewing your estate plan every five years probably is overkill. But do so whenever you have a change in circumstances such as those listed above. If you're over 60 and haven't updated your estate plan in many years, now's the time. Then, having a review every five years is definitely a good rule of thumb.

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