Legal Notes

When should you update your will?

By Elizabeth Perry, attorney at law

Your will is probably 20 or 30 years old, prepared when your children were young. Now in retirement, you are wondering “do I need to update my estate planning documents?”

The passage of time by itself, does not mean you need to do a new will. When I review clients’ documents, it is common for the will and the community property agreement to still be just fine, even if they are twenty plus years old.

However, often, some tweaking is needed. One real obvious issue you should look at is “who should be my power of attorney? ”Often you will decide to use your children as your attorney-in-fact now that they have become adults.

To help you answer that question for yourself, I have developed a checklist of common events that trigger the need for a new will. You can review the checklist on your own to help you think things through.

A. Have there been changes in your family?

Do you have grandchildren you wish to include in your estate planning?

Have your children’s circumstances changed (e.g. Are you concerned about their receiving an inheritance and having it impacted by a divorce, creditors, etc.)?

Are there new people in your life that should be named in your will (e.g. birth, adoption)?

Are you planning on getting married and need a prenuptial agreement?

Have you gotten married since you signed your old will? (This is an exceptionally important time to sign a new will even if you make no changes since the new marriage impacts the old will.)

Have you filed a state-registered domestic partnership?

Have you moved to a new state?

Has someone you named as a beneficiary in your will passed away or become disabled?
Do you have a new charity you would like to remember?

Are your personal representative, attorney-in-fact for finances, attorney-in-fact for health care, guardian, and/or trustee still the right fiduciaries for you?

B. Have there been changes in your assets?

Has the value of your estate substantially increased or decreased?

Have you acquired real estate outside of Washington?

Have you reviewed how your IRA/401K beneficiary designations fit with your will/trust?

Do you need help thinking through how the beneficiary designations on your life insurance, investment accounts, and/or bank accounts fit with your will/trust?

Would a Revocable Living Trust better serve your goals?

C. Do you need to plan for incapacity?

Has there been a change in your or your spouse’s health?

Have you been denied long term care insurance and are you concerned about long term care costs?

Should you include authority for gifting in your durable power of attorney? Do your goals and family situation make this a good idea?

Does your health care directive clearly state your desires about the medical treatment you want if you cannot speak for yourself?

D. Do changes in the law dictate changes in your estate planning?

If you are married and new to Washington, it is very important to review the new options you have in your estate planning documents now that you are in a community property state. This is true even if you have moved from another community property state since each state’s community property law are distinct.

A change in federal law—the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 or HIPAA—has made it advisable to revise health care powers of attorney to comply with federal law.'

The estate tax law is always changing and should be periodically reviewed if your asset level puts you at risk.

Liz Perry, of the Landerholm Law Firm in Vancouver, has been helping Clark County residents since 1976. Her practice emphasizes estate planning, trusts, guardianships, probate and Medicaid planning. You may call her at 360-816-2485 to meet with Liz or view her website at