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Am I Required to Revise My Estate Plan Documents After a Certain Length of Time?

By: Andrew Eggan, estate planning attorney

Are you required to revise your estate plan documents after a certain length of time? This question is asked by clients and perspective clients on a regular basis. It’s an important question to discuss with an attorney.

There’s no law that says trusts, wills, or powers of attorney will expire after a certain time period if not re-signed or replaced by more recent documents. However, this doesn’t fully answer the question. 

Although the law doesn’t require re-signing, the individual or organization that’s presented with a power of attorney may have its own policy – it may not accept or honor a power of attorney that’s older than a certain length of time. For example, you may be named in a power of attorney by some relative or friend to allow you to assist that individual with his or her banking needs. Even if the power of attorney  at issue meets all the legal requirements, their bank may have an internal policy that it won’t honor any estate plan document that’s dated 10 years, or some other length of time, prior to the date submitted. The bank’s policy may create a problem, especially if the grantor of the power of attorney is in poor physical or mental health and can’t sign a new power of attorney.  

The bank, individual, or organization’s policy is generally based on the concern that they have no evidence that the creator of the document still has the same feelings or intentions as he or she had 10 years ago and that it still reflects their wishes years later.

If a person wanted to try to enforce the power of attorney in a court proceeding, that could be expensive, time consuming and a hassle for all involved. The judge in the case will examine the document you’re seeking to enforce and hear testimony as to the wishes of the person trying to enforce the power of attorney.  In addition to the issue of the  length of time between the date the document was originally signed and the current date, if there’s not a specific provision that gives the named attorney-in-fact the authority to take the desired action, you’ll likely lose your case.

Wills and trusts don’t typically face the same problem. These documents are generally enforceable without anyone raising the issue that too much time has passed since the document was signed. However, all your documents should be reviewed regularly as other circumstances may have changed in your estate plan intentions. 

The best option to resolve the potential issue regarding old documents in your estate plans is to review them regularly (every 3-5 years, or more frequently if there are indicators that you’ll need to use the documents soon) and consider having them redone so they’re not more than 3-7 years old. The time of 3-7 years is not guaranteed to prevent timeliness problems, but it has been our experience that significant problems don’t arise in that period. 

Our attorneys are very experienced in discussing and assisting in the renewal of estate plan documents. Feel free to contact any of our estate planning attorneys in Ann Arbor to discuss your questions.

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