A will is certainly something that should be completed. However, it isn’t a document to put on the shelf and forgotten because, as your life and government laws change, so should your will, according to The Item in “Don’t wait until high noon.”
Marriage, divorce, birth, adoption and death are some of the key trigger events in life that call for a review of your will. Some of these events seem very obvious, but others aren’t. That is when problems can arise. For instance, if a widow or widower remarries, their will needs to be updated to clarify how the new spouse and the children from prior marriages are to be provided for.
Welcoming a new child into the family, whether by birth or adoption, is an event to celebrate. The will needs to add the new child. However, there’s another step that may be even more important. A will is used to name a guardian for the child, so the parents may name a person to rear their child in their absence. If a guardian is not named, then the court will select someone who might have not been the parents’ first (or even second) choice.
The death of an executor, beneficiary, guardian or trustee named in the will also means that the will needs to be updated. If the person who has died is a beneficiary, their name needs to be removed. You may want to reconsider how assets are distributed. For executors, guardians or trustees, remember to add a secondary person for each role.
What if you inherit an unexpected fortune? You’ll definitely need to review your will, since your estate tax liability may have changed. Even if you don’t owe federal estate taxes, there may be state estate taxes to plan for. If you suffer a large financial loss, you’ll need to review your will, since the generous gift you had planned on leaving to a nonprofit may no longer be available.
Some changes to wills occur because people change their minds about how they want to distribute their assets, or who they want to handle their post-mortem responsibilities. If you have a falling out with an executor, for instance, that change needs to be made in a timely manner.
If you have not reviewed the beneficiaries who are named on your life insurance policies and retirement accounts, and any other accounts where beneficiaries are named, you’ll want to do that too. If your will says cousin Andrew gets your life insurance policy proceeds, but his sister Stella is the one named as the beneficiary, then only Stella receives the proceeds. The named beneficiary is a contract that cannot be challenged or changed after your death, regardless of what your will says.
An estate planning attorney familiar with the laws of your state can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your specific circumstances.
Reference: The Item (Feb. 15, 2019) “Don’t wait until high noon”