A recent Consumer Reports survey found that 86% of respondents who had wills or other estate documents hadn’t updated them within the past five years.
These documents ensure that your wishes are honored when you’re no longer able to act for yourself—either due to illness or death.
Wills, on the other hand, take effect only at death.
Glenn Jarrett, an elder law attorney in Burlington, Vt., offers his clients a free document review every three years, although he cautions that clients shouldn’t wait to review after a major life change, such as divorce.
“Sometimes, people don’t get around to doing it, and then it hurts them,” he said.
So you needn’t execute a new will each time you buy a nice car or expensive watch—you can record them on the property list, dating and initialing each new entry.
One tip: Don’t keep the will in your safe deposit box, because the legal authority to open the box is often granted in the terms of the will itself, said Buckley Fricker, author of “Elder Care: The Road to Growing Old Is Not Paved,” and a geriatric care manager in northern Virginia.
If you distrust the person your child married, you might take steps to ensure that person won’t have access to your money if your child dies.
Alternatively, if you marry someone with children of their own, you might want to ensure that, after your spouse’s death, your assets eventually flow to your biological children, not to your stepchildren.
Another benefit of trusts over wills is that the former can operate during your lifetime.
A trust can include provisions for gifting assets to heirs or charities and contain legally binding instructions for how your money and care should be handled if you become incapacitated, Fricker said.
As people go through life, acquiring new assets and family members and building more complicated estates, a trust might become more appropriate, experts say.