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How to change existing estate plans

A reminder to Miami-Dade County residents; a person's estate plan is an ever-changing entity. These alterations are needed because of major life changes, which can include changes in wealth, marrying or re-marrying or any other significant events that could render a previous estate plan ineffective. These changing scenarios will likely make a person rethink how they might want to distribute estate assets, who they want making health care decisions for them and so forth.

In addition to major life changes, errors in documents for an existing estate plan can sometimes crop up as well. This must be fixed in order for the estate plan to properly reflect the intentions of the property's owners.

With irrevocable trusts being all the rage in estate planning as men and women discover their usefulness, exactly how easy is it to make changes to an existing estate plan? There are still ways to make important tweaks to these existing plans.

For starters, it is quite easy to make adjustments to revocable wills and trusts as long as the settler is still alive and mentally competent. The only problem is estate planners do not scrutinize their wills or trusts often enough to detect possible problems or inaccuracies. These are problems that arise when the settler passes away, leaving a mess to be sorted out in probate court.

For irrevocable estate planning documents, state laws specify when and how they can be changed. Four possible methods are as follows:

  • Construction: A court proceeding to solve ambiguity that might be present in estate planning documents
  • Reformation: Also a court proceeding used to correct errors in documents. These can be as simple as a misspelling of a name or more profound mistakes that render the document ineffective.
  • Amendments: More and more irrevocable trusts will allow amendments to be made as long as they do not impact dispositive provisions.
  • Decanting: This is the act of combining one irrevocable trust with another, in order to obtain the more favorable terms of one.

It is never too late, or impossible, to craft estate plans to your exact specifications.

Source: Forbes, "Fixing the broken estate plan," Rob Clarfeld, March 9, 2012

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