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5 Reasons To Amend Your Estate Plan

It's 2017...do you know where your estate plan is? If you're like most busy people, you may have made a will, perhaps when your children were born, and it's possible you've taken other steps to lay out what will happen after you're gone. But frequently those plans are just gathering dust.

Now's a good time to crack open the vault and take a closer look. Typically, your estate plan will need a minor update, and in some cases a complete overhaul may be in order. Consider these five reasons to revise your plan:

1. Family changes: Your personal situation may have shifted because of a divorce, a separation, or the death of a spouse. You might want to add or subtract beneficiaries to trusts or estates if children or grandchildren have been born since you created your estate plan or if a beneficiary has died. Or your intended heirs may have married or divorced, further complicating matters.

2. Financial changes: When you created your estate plan, you probably owned fewer assets or different assets than you have now. You may need to revise your will or trust documents, especially if the value has changed dramatically. Or perhaps you've acquired a business interest or sold one—another potentially big change to your financial status. A job loss or change also could have an impact on your plan.

3. Tax law changes: It seems like the federal estate tax law is amended every other year, so it's important to keep abreast of the latest developments. For instance, your estate plan may not reflect the ever-increasing federal estate tax exemption. The exemption, which was $650,000 less than two decades ago, has ballooned to $5.49 million for someone who dies in 2017. Other tax law provisions, such as the "portability" of exemptions between the estates of you and your spouse, also may need to be addressed.

4. Geographic changes: If you've pulled up stakes and moved the homestead, maybe downsizing to a place in a warmer climate, this significant change also probably needs to be reflected in your estate plan—especially if you’ve moved to a state with substantially different tax laws.

5. Personal changes: Finally, you may have had a change of heart about beneficiaries or developed different priorities or preferences. For example, you might decide to cut a daughter-in-law or son-in-law out of your will or decide to attach conditions to particular gifts or bequests. It's your estate plan, so you can "fix" it however you like.

Of course, you don't have to undertake all of this on your own. Rely on your financial, tax, and legal advisers for guidance.