Updating Your Estate Plan: How Many Tweaks Are Too Many? From Austin Estate Planning Attorney Liz Nielsen

Estate Plan Updates

There’s really only one thing you can be certain about in this world, that things change. If your life or the law has changed since you signed your will or trust agreement, you need to update your estate plan. You can make updates to a revocable living trust by way of an amendment or a complete restatement of the trust agreement. A will can be updated by either revoking and making a new will, or by making a codicil. Both amendments (for trusts) and codicils (for wills) act as stopgaps to make little tweaks or updates to your estate plan. Yet, sometimes it makes more sense to sign new documents, instead of making little tweaks.

Make the Small Changes or Start Over with a New Document?

Imagine a recipe card you have used for years. If you have crossed out and replaced one or two ingredients, the card may still be readable. However, if you have altered the ingredients many times, the recipe is probably confusing. If your loved ones cannot read your instructions to determine whether to add a cup of flour or a cup of sugar, your recipe will not work. You have a fifty-fifty chance for a great dish or an inedible disaster.

The same can be said about a will or revocable living trust. Most often, attorneys want to make sure your estate plan is as clear as possible. So making one or two little changes to a document is generally acceptable, but when revisions are numerous or deal with foundational or comprehensive changes to the plan, your instructions may become confusing. The primary reason for confusion is that the old document and any new documents must be read together to understand the full instructions. For this reason, starting over with a new estate plan or a complete restatement may serve you better.

Although codicils and amendments are generally used to make small changes and new wills or restatements are used for large ones, there is no bright-line rule for making changes to your will or trust. A general guideline is that anytime you are making more than two changes, creating a new will or restatement is probably better because it:

  • Fosters ease of understanding and administration;
  • Tends to avoid ambiguity;
  • Reduces the amount of paperwork to retain and provide to financial institutions or parties;
  • Decreases the risk of misplacement;
  • Prevents beneficiaries from discovering prior terms; and
  • Provides an opportunity to include other relevant updates, such as changes in the law.

In many cases, a restatement may be even more cost-effective than amendments. This is especially true today because computer software allows estate planning attorneys to easily and efficiently create and retain documents. Fortunately, you pay for legal counseling, not typing.

Have Questions about Making Changes to Your Estate Plan? We Have Answers

Before you decide whether to make a small change or create a new will or a trust restatement, it is important to determine whether previous changes have inadvertently altered your intent or might adversely affect the will’s or trust’s administration. We can help make your instructions clear. Nielsen Law can help set you up for Peace of Mind. Nielsen Law PLLC provides family focused estate planning to individuals and families in Austin, Round Rock, Cedar Park, and the Central Texas area.  For more information and to learn about our firm, please contact us.