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When Do I Update My Estate Plan?

People ask how often they need to come see a lawyer to engage in estate planning and whether it's dependent on age or wealth. Here's a simple way to determine whether it's time to go see the lawyer:

(1) On a sheet of paper or in a spreadsheet, make a list of all of your assets;

(2) Beside each asset, write "S" if it's solely owned or "J" if it's owned jointly with someone else;

(3) Add another column and fill in the total value of the asset;

(4) Take out your Will, if you have one;

(5) Going through the items on the list individually, ask yourself what would happen to each of those assets if you were to predecease your spouse or significant other (if they are assets that designate a beneficiary, then make sure the beneficiary designations are what you desire);

(6) Then go through the list asking the same question if your spouse or significant other were to predecease you;

(7) Finally, go through the list and ask yourself or selves what would happen to those assets if both of you were to die at the same time.

If you are unsure of the answers in questions (5), (6), or (7), or you don't like the answers you get, it's time to see an estate planning attorney.

By doing this every year around tax time, as your assets change and your circumstances do as well, you can very easily self-diagnose what assistance you need by determining where your assets would pass and whether that disposition is satisfactory to you or not. It's an easy, free way to ensure that your desires are achieved.

If all else fails and you don't have the discipline to do the above, then at least remember the three (3) D's -- death, disability, divorce: if any of these occurs in your family, or to any of your beneficiaries, it's almost certainly time to review your estate plan.

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