If there are significant events in your life or changes in your relationships, it’s time to ask the question: When should you change your will?
Hopefully, we get older and wiser. Your will should reflect that. Our relationships and priorities change over time. A person or organization you thought would be worth supporting in your will five years ago may no longer be part of your life. Your will is what’s stated in a document — not what you think it should be or want it to be in your head. Updating your will guards against unintended consequences if your life unexpectedly comes to an end.
Dickson Frohlich helps clients with estate planning, including creating and updating wills. A will is a legal document that allows you to pass assets on to others and recommend a guardian for your children after you pass away. A trust is another estate planning document that can be used with a will, in which you set aside assets for someone’s benefit; a trustee is responsible for making that happen. Without a will, if your estate goes to probate, those assets will go to your next of kin. Wills aren’t carved in stone. They should change so they match your priorities as your life changes.
When Should You Modify Your Will?
Many events can make you to think about changing your will. Your relationships with family, friends, and nonprofit organizations can change. You should update your will over your lifetime, but don’t change it in the heat of the moment. An argument with a family member, sudden interest in a new nonprofit, or the start of a new relationship shouldn’t result in changing your will. You need to balance taking some time to make sure your will reflects what you want against waiting so long that you never get around to making changes.
When should you modify your will? When one of these events or situations comes up:
1. The birth of a child or grandchild
If it’s your first child, focus on proposing a guardian for your child (a court ultimately makes the decision) and who might serve as trustee for a trust created for that child through the will. Even if you’re married, these provisions make sense.
If you pass away, unless there are serious issues with your spouse or the other parent, most people won’t think about a guardian or trust. But if the two of you pass away because you’re involved in the same accident, the court system decides who will care for your child. The will should also be written in a way to accommodate the birth of other children in the future.
If it’s your first grandchild, you should think along the same lines. If you have assets going to your child, but your child passes away before you do, a trust could be a way to support your grandchild in your absence.
If you have a joint will, you can’t change it by yourself. If they will is just for you, it will probably need to be updated. Normally married couples leave their assets to their surviving spouse. You likely don’t want that arrangement if you’re planning a divorce.
Estate planning documents are subject to divorce negotiations. Given that divorces can drag out, you may want to make immediate changes. But you may need to change it again after the divorce is final.
You may not want your future ex-spouse to get your assets if you pass away, but, depending on your relationship, you may want to make him or her a trustee of a trust that benefits your children. That way your ex won’t get the benefit of your property, but your kids will. You could also name someone else as trustee if your relationship has completely soured.
3. Your child marries
You may have created your will when your child was an infant. Time has flown by and now he or she is getting married. Unfortunately, your child may also divorce in the future. If your child is a beneficiary, you pass away, assets are transferred, and later there’s a divorce, there’s a chance that inherited property may be claimed by the spouse.
A judge looking at an overall property settlement, to make it appear fair and balanced, might also look to inherited property. Also, if it’s handled as joint property, or mixed in with joint property, it may be treated that way during a divorce.
This could be avoided through a prenuptial agreement that discusses this issue. If there is no such agreement, the assets you want for your child can go into a trust where he or she is the beneficiary. This should prevent a divorcing spouse from trying to get a share.
4. Your beneficiary becomes unable to handle an inheritance or can’t be trusted
You may want a friend or family member to benefit from your estate, so he or she is a beneficiary. What if after the will was created, this person:
- Suffered a serious accident or developed a severe illness
- Became an addict (whether of alcohol, drugs, gambling, or something else that’s ruining the person’s life)
- Was deep in debt . . .
If the person became severely disabled, it might affect them mentally. A large amount of money may also disqualify them from government benefits they need. An addict could spend your money to fuel the addiction. Money given to someone in serious debt may just go to the creditor.
A way to approach this is to take assets from your estate and use them for a trust for this person’s benefit. They’re able to use this money in a way that helps them. It won’t worsen or make their lives more complicated. The trustee should spend the money sensibly and it shouldn’t be accessed by creditors.
5. People named in your will are out of your life or dead
Your will should name an executor and beneficiaries. Also named should be alternates. This way if the person listed is unwilling or unable to administer your estate, someone else can do it. If a beneficiary predeceases you, those assets will go to someone else.
If your will doesn’t list alternates, you should update your old will or create a new one that does. You want someone you know and trust to be in charge of your estate. Make sure that will happen if your first executor is out of the picture. Most people create wills so they can have some control over their estate and they may not want next of kin to benefit from it. Potentially, if there are no listed beneficiaries alive when you pass away, your next of kin will be next in line whether you like it or not.
Does a Will Ever Get Outdated?
Not necessarily. If you recently created one and your life hasn’t changed, it probably doesn’t need to be updated. You should at least review your estate planning documents periodically, including your will, and consider whether changes would be a good idea.
Does a will ever get outdated? A better question is whether your will is outdated. If it is, it’s time for a change.
Why Should You Update Your Will? To Accomplish Your Goals.
Many people mistakenly believe that creating a will is only for the wealthy who have lots of assets, kids, and real estate. The truth is that anyone with any property and or children should have a will to protect their families. If you pass away without one, your assets go to your next of kin, whether you want that or not.
Why should you update your will? Because if it’s not current and it doesn’t reflect how you want your estate to be handled, there’s not much point in having a will. If you don’t have a will, or you want to change the one you have, call Dickson Frohlich today for a free 15-minute consultation at 206-621-1110.