I was cooking a rice dish recently when I was struck be one of the instructions: “Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.” The phrase stayed with me, and after giving it some thought, I realized that it is good advice beyond the confines of a rice recipe.
“Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.” This is essentially the same advice I give to my estate planning clients. When a will, trust, or any other estate planning document is created, it is based on your life at that moment. Of course we try to anticipate the future, but life often has a way of going in a direction you don’t expect. Even if your life turns out exactly as you expected, the law changes. So an estate plan that was perfect ten years ago may not fit your life and family any more.
One example: In 1996, Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”). Among other things, this Act regulates the disclosure of “Protected Health Information.” This can affect your estate plan in many ways. For instance, if you have a trust, and a trustee becomes unable to manage the trust properly because of mental and/or physical health problems (we call this “incapacitated”), it may be hard for the backup trustee to get the evidence they need to prove these health problems to the court. Special language can be put in a trust to address HIPAA – but if you have a trust that was created before 1996, it won’t have this language. It can be amended to add the language.
So if it has been a few years since you’ve created or updated your estate plan, dust it off and read through it to see if it still reflects your wishes. An attorney can evaluate it to see if it needs to be updated because of changes in the law.
“Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.” This advice also applies to child custody. Do you have a parenting plan that has been in place for several years? What may have worked when your kids were younger may need to be adjusted as they age and become more involved in school and social activities. Many courts offer mediation that can help you and the other parent create a new parenting plan that fits your kids and your life.