Once you’ve drafted your will, it’s easy to just forget about it and think you’re all prepared for the future. But often, that won’t be the case, as there could be several events that occur during your life that will make it necessary for you to update your will.
Having a will in the first place is a good start, as most parents with children in this country don’t even have one. But a will is vital for the safety of your family’s future. Not having a will in place may leave your family vulnerable to losing whatever you intend to leave to your heirs.
Your will protects your family and your assets by outlining exactly how your estate will be handled when you pass on. However, just like items in your home, your will may require some maintenance to keep it up to date. We’re going to break down the reasons to update your will for you as well as give you a brief overview on how to go about making changes.
1. Your Family Situation Has Changed
This is a broad topic that has several parts, but we’re going to get into each of the possible situations. One of the main reasons you might need to update a will is if you have had a major life change, mainly including births, adoption, and marriage. These may be situations that affect you personally or occur to other members of your family. Either way, you may want to include new additions to the family in your will.
When you have a child, not only are you busier, but you’ll have to provide for the new addition to your family as well. One of the smartest ways to do this is to include your children in your will, which will take care of them should something happen to you.
Your children may have been included in your original will, but let’s say you have another after your will was created. In these cases, you will want to review the will and name a guardian or guardians for them in case something happens to you or your spouse.
In most situations, your will should automatically include any child that was born after it was signed. The will is generally divided evenly among your children, and even if you have another child after your document is signed, they should still be included as if they had been born prior. However, you will want to verify the language in your will to make sure this is the case so that all of your children get an even share. It may even be a good idea to review your will with an attorney to make sure all of your children are properly provided for.
Another situation you may want to review with regard to your children is after they’ve grown up. If your will was written when your children were young, it’s a great idea to have their assets placed in a trust, but if they are now older, perhaps even with kids of their own, you should make revisions. Since they will no longer require guardians, you may want to change your will to name them as executors. You may also want to re-allocate who gets what as your children have changed since they were younger.
Marriage & Divorce
If your marital situation changes, so too should your estate plan. For example, in the event of a divorce, you most likely won’t want to leave money or other assets to your ex. In these situations, you should discuss with an attorney what changes you might need to make to your will. You should also talk with your attorney about how to best protect yourself and your assets should your ex contest your will, which they have a right to do if they so choose.
This means you should give a thorough review of every facet of the document. If you’re lucky, some minor changes may be all that is required, however, in some states a divorce will automatically revoke the provisions of your will. In these cases, you will have to draft an entirely new will.
In your will, you will usually want to remove your ex as a beneficiary or trustee on any living trusts you’ve created. You’ll also revise trusts that control the assets you want to leave for your children. You may also need to change your power of attorney, living will, as well as the beneficiaries on your IRA, pensions, and life insurance.
If, later on, you decide to remarry, you will go through the process again, this time perhaps with children from prior marriages on both sides to consider, or additional children that you have together. If you so choose, you can agree to a prenuptial agreement that will keep your assets separate, and make it so that you don’t have inheritance rights to each other’s estates.
One last situation with regard to marriage is if your spouse passes away. In these unfortunate circumstances, you may want to review your will as well. Most wills should have backup plans set up for if your spouse predeceases you, but it is still a good idea to double check. You may also want to change how you’d like to distribute your assets or switch your backup recipients.
2. Your Relationships Have Changed
As the years go by, your relationships with people who were once important to you may change for a variety of reasons. These people can include those you’ve designated as guardians for your children, your trustees and executors, and even your heirs.
Things happen in life, and sometimes they may change the way you feel about a certain person in your will. In these instances, you may want to modify your will to cut them out or readjust who gets what. You may want to assign new guardians for your kids or reallocate certain assets to different people.
You may even just want a lifelong best friend to receive a certain meaningful item. There are so many different things you can do with your will that you can modify who gets what throughout your life as these relationships change, to make sure those closest to you are the ones who benefit from your estate.
And there are other situations beyond deteriorating relationships that qualify as good reasons to update your will. Maybe you’ve developed a meaningful relationship with a charitable organization that you would like to give to after your death. Perhaps someone in your will is no longer of sound mind and will not be capable of acting as a guardian, executor, etc. A person listed in your will may even have passed away.
In any of these situations, you can make updates to reallocate your assets and the terms of your will.
3. You’ve Moved
If you move to a different state, you will have to review your will once more, as each state will have different rules and regulations in regard to estate taxes and property. Never assume your old will is still valid in your new state. You should consult an attorney to make sure your will is optimized for your new state and is completely legal.
4. You’ve Had Significant Changes To Your Assets
Another time you may want to update your will is if you’ve had a large increase or decrease in the value of your estate. There are many reasons that this may occur.
Perhaps you invested wisely and substantially boost the value of your estate, or maybe a family member passes away and leaves a large sum to you. You may have made a large purchase, such as an expensive car or a vacation home, or on the flip side may have sold one and now have the cash value.
Whatever the situation, a large change in the value of your estate should warrant a reassessment of your will. With regard to large sums of money, it may be wise to draft a trust that can help protect your heirs against costly taxes owed after your passing. Talking to an attorney and/or an accountant can help you properly plan your will for these situations.
On the other hand, if its a significant decrease in assets that you’ve encountered, you will also need to take another look at your will to see how things can be distributed. Since the value is no longer as high as it was, you may no longer have the funds you had intended to distribute. In these cases, you will need to update your will to reflect your current situation.
There is also the chance that you won’t want to change a thing, regardless of how much your estate value has changed, but it’s best to take another look to be sure.
5. You’ve Simply Had A Change Of Heart
Of course, there’s always the chance that you may simply change your mind about certain portions of you will later in life. Maybe you originally created your will when you were a newlywed or right after you first had children. Your thinking might change as you grow older, so it may be worth another look to see if you want to update your will because of changes in your life.
This could be based on relationships that aren’t what they used to be, or perhaps you’ve just had a change of heart. It’s your will, so you’re allowed to make changes as you see fit for whatever reason. A will isn’t meant to be something you create on impulse — it will take careful thought and you can make adjustments quite literally until the day you die.
How To Update A Will
You have two options when it comes to how you’d prefer to update your will: revise your existing will, or create a new one.
If you choose to make changes to your current will, you can change or delete certain sections, or add new terms and adjust for new assets. Whatever changes you choose to make, they will be done through a codicil form. This is a separate document, essentially like an amendment to your will, that will add to your original will.
This will be your best option if your will is especially long and you only want to make a few small changes. A codicil can also act as a failsafe for your original will. If you weren’t in the right frame of mind when you made your codicil, someone in your family can contest and overturn the additional clauses without having any effect on the original will.
Codicils should only be prepared by your attorney because although they seem easy enough to do on your own, the smallest mistake can make them invalid.
If you need wholesale changes to your will, creating an entirely new will may be your best option. This new will supersedes your current/old will and won’t be overly complicated to create since you are familiar with the process.
While we’ve outlined some of the more common reasons to update your will, there are certainly many more situations that can occur in your life that may motivate you to make changes. The best thing you can do is to schedule regular checkups of your will, perhaps annually, so you can always be confident that things are set up the way you want them to.
You really want to be sure your estate is handled as you desire when you pass and making sure your will is updated is the best way to maintain peace of mind.