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There's a right and wrong way to make changes to your estate plan

Trusts are an important part of many Californians' estate plans. However, drafting a trust or other estate planning documents is rarely a "one and done" situation.

Assuming that you haven't waited until you're very old and/or ill to do this important planning for your legacy and your family's future, you'll likely need to make some amendments over the years. Marriage, divorce, births, deaths and many other factors can necessitate changes to a trust.

It's essential to remember that amending a trust has to be done correctly. Otherwise, the amendments aren't legally binding.

Some people, believe it or not, actually write their changes on their original trust document and put it back in their safe or file cabinet, believing that this is all they need to do. In fact, not only are those amendments not valid, but writing on a trust document can invalidate the whole thing.

Amendments to trusts need to be done with the same legal formality as the original trust. Your California estate planning attorney can ensure that the amendments are made properly.

If you have a considerable number of amendments, whether all at once or over time, many attorneys will recommend that you "restate" the trust. That means that you incorporate the amendments into a new trust document. That makes it easier for heirs and others dealing with the document after your death. If you only have a few amendments over the course of time, those can just be maintained with the original trust and read along with it when the time comes.

Sometimes people make changes to their successor trustees, powers of attorney and others they've designated to carry out their wishes if they become incapacitated or die. Those changes also have to be made formally. Again, your family law attorney can assist you in doing this.

Remember that wills, trusts and other parts of your estate plan are legal documents and must be treated with the appropriate gravity. Not doing so can create confusion, conflict and added expense for your loved ones after you die, and no one wants to do that.

Source: The Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley Journal, "How to Properly Amend Your Estate Plan," Marlene S. Cooper, April 13, 2016

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