Estate planning lawyers hear it all the time—people meaning to update their will, but somehow never getting around to actually getting it done. The only group larger than the ones who mean to “someday,” are the ones who do not think they ever need to update their documents, says the article “12 Different Times When You Should Update Your Will” from Kiplinger. The problems become abundantly clear when people die, and survivors learn that their will is so out-of-date that it creates a world of problems for a grieving family.
There are some wills that do stand the test of time, but they are far and few between. Families undergo all kinds of changes, and those changes should be reflected in the will. Here are one dozen times in life when wills need to be reviewed:
Welcoming a child to the family. The focus is on naming a guardian and a trustee to oversee their finances. The will should be flexible to accommodate additional children in the future.
Divorce is a possibility. Do not wait until the divorce is underway to make changes. Do it beforehand. If you die before the divorce is finalized, your spouse will have marital rights to your property. Once you file for divorce, in many states you are not permitted to change your will, until the divorce is finalized. Make no moves here, however, without the advice of your attorney.
Your divorce has been finalized. If you did not do it before, update your will now. Do not neglect updating beneficiaries on life insurance and any other accounts that may have named your ex as a beneficiary.
When your child(ren) marry. You may be able to mitigate the lack of a prenuptial agreement, by creating trusts in your will, so anything you leave your child will not be considered a marital asset, if his or her marriage goes south.
Your beneficiary has problems with drugs or money. Money left directly to a beneficiary is at risk of being attached by creditors or dissolving into a drug habit. Updating your will to includes trusts that allow a trustee to only distribute funds under optimal circumstances protects your beneficiary and their inheritance.
Named executor or beneficiary dies. Your old will may have a contingency plan for what should happen if a beneficiary or executor dies, but you should probably revisit the plan. If a named executor dies and you do not update the will, then what happens if the second executor dies?
A young family member grows up. Most people name a parent as their executor, then a spouse or trusted sibling. Two or three decades go by. An adult child may now be ready to take on the task of handling your estate.
New laws go into effect. In recent months, there have been many big changes to the law that impact estate planning, from the SECURE Act to the CARES act. Ask your estate planning attorney every few years, if there have been new laws that are relevant to your estate plan.
An inheritance or a windfall. If you come into a significant amount of money, your tax liability changes. You will want to update your will, so you can do efficient tax planning as part of your estate plan.
Can’t find your will? If you cannot find the original will, then you need a new will. Your estate planning attorney will make sure that your new will has language that states revokes all prior wills.
Buying property in another country or moving to another country. Some countries have reciprocity with America. However, transferring property to an heir in one country may be delayed, if the will needs to be probated in another country. Ask your estate planning attorney, if you need wills for each country in which you own property.
Family and friends are enemies. Friends have no rights when it comes to your estate plan. Therefore, if families and friends are fighting, the family member will win. If you suspect that your family may push back to any bequests to friends, consider adding a “No Contest” clause to disinherit family members who try to elbow your friends out of the estate.
Reference: Kiplinger (May 26, 2020) “12 Different Times When You Should Update Your Will”
Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys