While you may recognize that certain events such as marriage, death of a spouse, divorce, or the birth of a child warrant an update to your will, there are other, less well-known occurrences, that also justify revising this legal document. Life presents us with a variety of opportunities and challenges, some of them important considerations for making changes to your will.
As young parents, you were excited to bring children into the world and watch them grow up. At that time, you likely named your spouse or parent as your first executor, then perhaps your sibling or a friend as the backup. Now everyone is much older or deceased and younger family members may be more appropriate choices for handling your affairs.
As an older parent, you are also a wiser parent, and when it comes time for your children to enter into marriage, you may know more about your future son-in-law or future daughter-in-law than your child. Since your current will likely addresses issues that applied when your child was young, it does not address your child’s possible divorce. You may be able to address the lack of a prenuptial agreement by creating trusts in your will and including post-nuptial requirements before your child can receive any estate distributions. This should be done immediately after your child gets married.
Some wills leave money directly to a beneficiary. If that beneficiary has become addicted to opioids or prescription drugs, or if the beneficiary has large creditor problems, you should update your will to include trusts that allow a third party to only distribute funds under specific circumstances. It is important to complete this as soon as you suspect there is a problem. With drug addiction and mental illness on the rise, these are important considerations to protect your intentions when you prepared your will.
Finally, when it comes to family and friends, few things can spoil your plans more than when the people you care most about don’t get along. The problems associated with animosity between parties in your will are compounded when one party is your family and the other is your friend. Only your nearest family members can easily fight your will, since your “next-of-kin” are required parties to your probate (even if you fully disinherit them), while your friends have no default rights. If you think a family member may oppose your best friend’s bequest in your will, consider adding a No Contest Clause, which will thwart any effort to contest that part of your will.
While this may be overstating the obvious, it is important to know where your will is kept and to instruct those responsible for administering your estate. People lose track of their original wills. If you cannot locate your original document or you agreed to have your attorney hold onto it and now don’t want to deal with him or her, make sure you replace that will with a new, original one that explicitly states it invalidates all prior wills.
As if keeping track of your will and changing family dynamics aren’t enough, every few years Congress passes legislation that can derail your estate plan. Estate tax laws have been changing every few years, and recent laws — including the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” and the “SECURE Act” — have updated how Inherited IRAs, same-sex marriage, and family business succession planning work. Make sure to consult your attorney every few years regarding new laws that are relevant to your estate planning.
To close on a high note, if you happen to acquire or inherit a large sum of money, consider updating your will so you can ensure proper tax planning. For example, you may want to start gifting money to family members or create a donor-advised fund to both shield some money from taxes and leave a nice gift to a cause you believe in. Also, you may want to reconsider when and how much money you are leaving to certain people or charities.
Keeping tabs on your will, as well as how the events in your life and the lives of those for whom you care most can impact its execution, is critical to maintaining the integrity of your final wishes.