Understanding When to Update Your Will: Key Moments to Consider

When to Update Your Will

5 min read

You might think you are too young for a will. Perhaps you have a son or daughter who is a millennial and they have not thought about a will. The uncertainties, however, should make you seriously reconsider and get a will created now. Let us tell you a sad but true story that illustrates why wills are of such importance.

An Unexpected Loss of a Son

We all hear the stories but never think it will happen to us. Someone we know recently lost their son who was in seemingly good health in his late 30's. It was unexpected. But, as they quickly learned, he did not have a will in place. His family had set up a trust account for him, but they unknowingly had not identified a beneficiary. Without a will, this young man's mother and father were struggling to have access to their own funds as the trust went into probate. All of this was unnecessary if they had just set up the appropriate will.

No matter your age, we strongly encourage you to have a will in force. A will is an essential part of planning for the future. But don't think creating a will is a one-time proposition. Even if you have a valid document, you may need to draft a new will for a variety of reasons.

Seven Good Reasons to Update Your Will

1. Deaths. If individuals named (as heirs or executors) have died or if they become incapacitated, a will should be reviewed to ensure changes are not needed. 

2. Assets. Revisions may be needed if the value of assets has increased or decreased significantly or if they are no longer owned. For example, if you specifically leave your home to one of your children, and later sell it, you may want to change the distribution of your other assets

3. Marriage. Wedding bells usually signal the need to review a will. Which assets should pass to a spouse? Are step-children involved? If this is not spelled out in a will, the state will decide. In a community property state, a spouse automatically inherits half of all community property. In most other states, a spouse may receive one‑third to one‑half of the estate, absent any other directions.

Also, keep in mind that an unmarried couple living together may want to leave assets to each other but in order to make an inheritance happen, it must generally be spelled out in a will.

4. Divorce. In many states, a divorce automatically revokes a will or those provisions concerning an ex‑spouse. As a result, if you get divorced, it's best to have a new will drafted. For instance, you might have your former spouse removed as a primary beneficiary. In addition, you may want to change the beneficiary of your life insurance, pension, or any existing IRAs. Consider the use of a trust if children from a previous marriage are involved.

You may also want to change your will if one of your children gets divorced.

5. Births. Once you have children, you may want to consider updating your will to include the names of children. Also, you want to name guardians to care for the children in the event you die prematurely. (However, the naming of guardians is not binding by the probate court.) Grandparents might wish to draft a new will concerning the distribution of assets after children are born. Again, the use of a trust may be recommended.

6. Retirement. This event may also trigger the need to make changes to an existing will. For example, many retirees sell their homes and move to other states. But state laws can vary widely. Furthermore, individuals may consider a power of attorney that enables someone else to act on their behalf in the event of certain illnesses.

7. Tax law revisions. The Internal Revenue Code is regularly changed. In fact, the estate tax rules have undergone significant changes in recent years and more changes could occur. A will should be reviewed to take advantage of maximum tax benefits that exist today so it may have to be updated if tax laws change.

Note: In some cases, a will might be amended with a "codicil." However, in many cases, it is best to draft a new will.

What Should You Do Next?

For many of our clients, wills are not sufficient. It may be a good time to sit down with us to discuss your estate planning needs. We can guide you on how to proceed through our advisory and consulting services. From knowing when to update your will to understanding estate planning for blended families, we are here to help.

Don't wait. "Someday" is really not a good day to take care of your will.

Learn More about the Advisory & Consulting Services We Offer

We are here to help take your complex problems and find the right solutions.

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December 17, 2017