I’ve Moved: Do I Need a New Estate Plan?

Written by Jim Worthington on October 9, 2019

The cardboard boxes haven’t been recycled yet, and you still can’t find your kitchen gadgets. Do you really need to be thinking about your estate plan? Yes. That’s the short answer. The more important question is: How quickly do you need to take care of this?

Moving and retiring are both major sources of stress, so moving to a new state as part of your retirement provides a double dose of stress. In addition to dealing with the psychological toll of a move, you also need to handle stressful, time-consuming tasks like utility set-ups; voter, driver’s license and vehicle tag registrations; and new doctor visits. With all of this on your “Just Moved To Do” list, do you need to rush out and find a new lawyer?

The short answer here is “No” — unless your move was for immediate medical needs. Finding a new estate planning lawyer isn’t as urgent as establishing your new household because states generally accept wills, trusts, and powers of attorney signed in other states by residents of those other states.

Important health care documents require greater urgency

Due to the uncertainty of health care paperwork acceptance, though, the answer is different for those people with immediate medical needs. Health care documents are more likely to follow statutory forms, and hospital staff in the new state are unlikely to be familiar with the form used in the prior state, so they may not follow it. Many hospitals, however, will provide a pre-printed form that will serve in a pinch. A person who signs one of those forms should have it reviewed by an experienced lawyer in the new state as soon as is convenient to make sure it accurately and completely states one’s wishes.

State legal differences may cause conflicts

This relative lack of urgency for most people doesn’t mean updating your estate planning documents isn’t important. Looking at the differences in the two states where I practice, Kentucky and North Carolina, helps explain why.

North Carolina law provides a statutory general power of attorney form. Initialing short descriptions of powers adopts the longer version of those powers printed in North Carolina’s version of the Uniform Power of Attorney Act. Kentucky, however, does not have a statutory form or those defined powers. North Carolina does not require witnesses for a power of attorney, but Kentucky does.

Wills and trusts may need to be modified as well. Most wills and many, especially older, trusts specify that state law from where they were signed governs them. Lawyers and judges in the new state probably won’t know the prior state’s laws. Unless your documents are updated for the new state’s legal requirements, there could be uncertainty about how it should be interpreted there. And you don’t want to leave the meaning of your documents up to interpretation.

Find a lawyer who focuses on trusts and estates

Boiling this down to very practical terms, I recommend having new health care documents in place in the first two months after moving and meeting with a lawyer in the new state within four to six months after moving. That lawyer should understand the subtle differences in states’ laws that comes with focusing on a trusts and estates practice rather than being a generalist. Lawyers who are members of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel have been recognized by their peers as having that kind of practice focus.