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With the new year, time for careful scrutiny of your estate plan?

Here is an important question to pose internally from time to time for any Texas resident or person elsewhere who has, with assistance from an experienced estate administration attorney, crafted a well-tailored estate plan: How often should that plan be revisited and tweaked?

Boilerplate answers to that question -- once a year, every five years, when family membership changes -- are not very useful in the realm of estate planning, because, of course, every case is different.

For example, some people have a modest amount of wealth and no kids; perhaps a main goal in their planning is to secure long-term care when they are older. In such a case, Medicaid planning might feature heavily in their consultations with their attorney, with a central focus being on legally shielding their estate to the fullest extent possible from recovery for care provided.

Some individuals have diverse and significant assets, coupled with sprawling families marked by multiple generations of living family members. Their planning focus might logically center on asset distribution carried out in their wishes, together with strategies that help avoid taxes.

The answer to that timing question posed above can never be precise, but a useful guideline can certainly be used to ensure that an estate plan remains timely and relevant.

Here it is: Sit down with your attorney to review and possibly make changes to your plan whenever material changes occur in your life.

Most people intuitively know what that means. Have you been divorced? Are there more -- or fewer -- children now than there were when you first executed estate planning documents? Have family assets significantly increased or decreased? Has a provided-for loved one passed away? Has tax law changed? Are health issues becoming a family concern?

That list goes on, of course, and looks different for every individual and family, but additions to it are similar for being material. Changed circumstances that can be deemed as major generally require renewed scrutiny of estate planning documents and strategies.

A seasoned estate planning attorney can help ensure that such scrutiny is both thorough and exacting.

Source: NJ.com, "Your legal corner: Reviewing your estate plan," Victoria M. Dalton, Jan. 5, 2014

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