The 10 best reasons (and times) to change your will
The unfortunate thing about having a will is, sometimes you can’t just put it away and forget about it in the hope that it will still be valid or applicable ten or twenty years down the line. Change happens to us all, and sometimes that means you have to ensure your will is regularly updated to reflect the different shifts and monumental events happening in your life.
There are many reasons why people may not keep their wills up-to-date. Most people get caught up in their daily rituals and end up procrastinating; others simply fail to see the urgency or importance of possessing current and personally relevant legal documents. Whether it’s one or the other, at the end of the day, the end-results can be quite…unfortunate.
To get the idea, think of chaos, confusion, endless squabbles, or tears among your loved ones all happening because you didn’t act to update your will. Unless you win the luck of the draw (i.e. your will remains entirely accurate right down to every clause even after thirty years), you most likely need to be making regular and imperative changes to your will along the way.
To avoid making frequent and unnecessary reviews, here are ten important time points that give you enough reason and justification to act quickly and alter the contents of your will:
When your firstborn arrives
Having your first child dramatically alters your life, and this change should be equally reflected in your will. Even during pregnancy, the focus should be on securing your child’s welfare as quickly as possible should anything happen to you. If you don’t have a will, then this also the best time to create one so you can choose a suitable and responsible guardian for your child. If you also create a trust for your heir then name an appropriate trustee keeping in mind that the possibility of any future children also needs to be considered and accommodated in these activities and in your will.
Taking care of things before the child is born means you will have more time to fully devote to your precious little one once they arrive – and you can do it with less worry and a bit more peace of mind.
When divorce is involved
It’s never a big understatement to say divorce changes everything, including your will. You may just be considering divorcing your spouse, or you are primed and ready to walk into a divorce attorney’s office. Whatever the case, your will needs attention first. You may not be able or legally allowed to change your will during divorce proceedings. If you die in the middle of it all, it means your spouse is entitled to a share of your estate even if it’s an idea you’re not happy with.
But, let’s say you have both made it through the divorce in one piece, that’s also a good, reasonable time to take another look at your will. You have probably made sure your former spouse no longer has a claim to your estate in any event. Not to mention that most state laws only provide for the mandatory disposition of assets to a spouse if they’re someone you are legally married to. Now that your spouse is no longer in the equation, there is a beneficiary vacuum to fill, and your will requires new, updated names including yours (that is if you decide to change it after the divorce!)
When potential executors come of age
They grow up so fast, don’t they! You may need to seriously rethink your choice of an executor if you previously omitted your under-age or immature family member in the selection process, but they have now grown to fill in the capable and responsible shoes that make for a successful executor. The same rules still apply, it should be someone trustworthy and honest…most important of all it should be someone who will make the right decisions for all involved while fully honoring your wishes regarding the proper handling of your estate affairs after your death.
When your child weds
Witnessing your child’s nuptials is a happy event for most parents but don’t forget that it’s also time to make practical considerations in your will – considerations that your child may be too young or inexperienced to make. For a start, without a pre-nuptial agreement and in the case, they later get divorced, your child may lose some assets you left them to their former spouse. This can be avoided by wisely creating a trust for them and a clause that explicitly names your child as the only beneficiary even after the divorce.
This is best done right before your child’s marriage. It ensures that if you die before the marriage is finalized the assets your child inherit will not be classified as marital assets. You also cater for the possibility of the marriage not happening after all.
When your original Will is MIA
If for one reason or another, you no longer have access to your original will, then photocopies may not be able to do the job. Legal documents need to be foolproof in all aspects, and all country laws take the validity of wills pretty seriously. If the original will is missing in action, consider heading over to your attorney’s office with appropriate haste, and make sure to invalidate all past wills while you are at it, in case they lost one is recovered in the future.
When foreign law also applies
The laws pertaining to wills may not be identical moving from country to country. If you are indeed moving to a foreign country or have recently acquired or transferred some property to a foreign country, it’s time to check the validity of your will. In some cases, luck may be on your side, and you will find no changes to your will are required. If not, then it might be a better idea to create a separate will that is applicable to the particular foreign laws you are subject to.
When you come into (more) money
Unexpected events can be financially beneficial (lotteries or a benevolent, wealthy uncle who remembered you in their will etc.) and if your bank balance receives a big bump then its cause for a huge celebration. It also necessitates making a few changes to your will. You need to decide where all that extra money will go if you die, which involves revising a good portion of your will. This is also the time to make the appropriate tax planning and payment adjustments.
When your executor/beneficiary dies or their situation changes
It’s always sad when the person you entrusted with the future affairs of your estate dies. In some cases, it might be a beneficiary you hoped would receive some of your assets. However, your will needs to be amended to ensure the safety of your wishes and assets by naming a new, worthy executor and other suitable beneficiaries.
When new laws come into effect
State and country laws change from time to time, and in some cases they may target your will, making individual sections redundant, or invalidating the whole will. This rarely happens, but it’s a good idea to check in with your attorney once in a while regarding changing legislature and how it applies to the contents of your will. A good example is the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which revamped estate and tax planning laws.
When a beneficiary is likely to contest
Let’s face it, disputes among family members and other parties over the estate distribution of a deceased person are common and to be expected. While you are alive, you may be able to keep the peace, but what happens when you die? Simply having a will does not always guarantee against any one of your beneficiaries refusing to accept its distribution terms and thus, moving to engage probate law on their side. For example, an entitled family member might feel just because they share the same blood with you; then they have more right to an asset you bequeathed to a non-relative. Legally they may be vindicated, which is terrible news for the intended, rightful beneficiary. However, adding a No Contest Clause if you suspect that this might happen will shield your beneficiaries from each other’s hostility, and it can also take punitive action against the wrongly contesting party