How Moving Can Impact Your Estate Plan
In this day and age of greater and easier mobility, it has become increasingly common for families to relocate geographically a number of times over their lifetime. Sometimes, the move represents growth and change, but it can also involve a job, marriage, divorce, health issues or even retirement.
It's often puzzling to people why where they live should have an impact on their estate plan, but it quite often does. Mostly, this is because most of the laws regarding estate planning are state-level laws, not federal. That means there are 50 separate approaches to such issues as wills, trusts, health directives, and even such basic concepts as whether or not you're considered married under the laws of the state you're moving to. If a gay couple, for example, put together their estate plan in California, based on their married status, and they move to Georgia, there's a very good possibility they will have to make adjustments to their estate plan.
This doesn't mean you have to make major changes, and such considerations are generally not serious enough to lead you to abandon your desire or need to move. In all but a few cases, there is no reason to scrap your existing plan entirely. Most estate laws in most states are largely similar, so there is rarely a need to go back to the drawing board and starting over. And frankly, even if a few documents have to be redrawn, you’ve already done the hard work, because you have already thought through the handling of your estate, so all that may need to be done is to re-write the documents to take care of technicalities in your new state.
If something happens soon after you move, however, before you have the time to revisit your estate plan, most states have laws that make a validly prepared will from one state will remain valid after moving to another. That doesn't mean you should put off talking to an estate planning attorney in your new state, though, because the will from your old state may reference old state laws that don't translate well to the new state, and which may create confusion.
There are other problems that could crop up, even if your will from your former state is accepted as valid. For example, if you came from an equitable division state to a community property state, your spouse may decide to treat your marital property as if it has been acquired, which may be a problem if you had specific uses in mind for that property.
Moving may also create a problem with executors, which may be denied access to your estate based on your new location, since state laws on who is qualified to be an executor can vary greatly. For example, Florida law requires that any executors must be a Florida resident, or related to the decedent by blood or marriage. That could be a problem if your estate plan names a good friend from your previous state as your executor, which means the state will likely appoint a trustee.
Finally, a move could throw a monkey wrench into the part of your estate plan that involves health care. While all states now allow advanced medical planning, different states have different approaches to the issue, which means it's not certain that a healthcare directive, living will or healthcare power of attorney will be valid in your new state. It's also likely that doctors in your new state will be unfamiliar with the out-of-state documents, which could lead to misunderstandings or confusion. Redrafting such documents to follow the rules of your new state could make things easier.
When life takes you to a new place, make sure you revisit your estate plan with a local estate planning lawyer in your new place, so you can go over your plan and tweak it where need be. It could save your family heartache in the long run.