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Wills and estates: What if circumstances change before I die?

Every estate planner's worst nightmare is to have his or her circumstances change before death, without having enough time to update his or her will and estate plan. A lot goes into a well-designed estate plan and sometimes individuals just let their wills and trust documents sit and forget about them after the difficult task is finally done. Wills, trusts and estate plans cannot be allowed to go stale, though -- individuals must check in with these documents often to ensure that nothing has changed that requires an update.

For example, what if a grandfather leaves the majority of his estate to his grandchildren by way of several trust funds. However, before the grandfather dies, a new grandchild is born who is never added to the estate plan. This could be confusing for the parents of the grandchildren, and it could be confusing for the grandchildren themselves -- especially if they are pressured to share their inheritances with the grandchild who was left out.

Unfortunately, this kind of problem is unsolvable if it is revealed after the grandfather had died. The grandfather would have been mistaken to create an estate plan that left out future grandchildren -- if it was his intention to treat all the grandchildren equally. It might be possible for the grandchildren to share their inheritances with the grandchild who was left out, but this is not a guarantee and it could lead to family infighting and jealousy.

This is why it is essential for New York residents to consider all potential future possibilities while creating their wills and estate plans. This is where an attorney can be essential to the estate planning process. An estate planning professional will have seen many different situations and learned how to avoid potential problems during his or her legal training. An experienced attorney will also know what questions to ask -- both ensure that the most appropriate estate planning strategy has been selected for a particular client and to ensure that the plan is carried out as the individual would have wished following his or her death.

Source: Boston Globe, "Revisiting advice on inheritance, co-signing" Michelle Singletary, Oct. 23, 2014

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