A startling number of people do not have a valid will prepared; even worse, a large majority of those who do have a will have not checked it or updated it since it was written. This is unfortunate because a will should be treated as a living, breathing document that you regularly review and adjust as necessary. If you have not yet created a will then you should do so as soon as possible; if you have a will that has not been updated lately then you should review it as soon as possible as well.
Major reasons to check and update your will
Your life changes over time and so should your will. You wouldn’t let your car go without regular maintenance, you wouldn’t let your home go without regular repairs, and neither should you let your will go without periodic review and updating. Think of it as regular maintenance to ensure your family will be protected and your estate will be properly handled should something happen to you.
It’s a good idea to set up a regular schedule for checking your will, but there are many reasons why you should update your will even if you are not scheduled to do so for some time. These reasons include:
• Family changes – Your family can change in many ways that potentially affect your will. You might get married, get divorced, have a child, adopt a child, or the like. The addition of grandchildren, nephews and nieces, god children, or simply the children of a very close friend can also be reasons to update your will.
• Changes in responsible individuals – Sometimes there are changes in your relationships that can affect your will as well. For instance, you may change your mind about the person you want to name as guardian of your minor children or your personal representative may have an illness or medical condition that would prevent him or her from fulfilling that role.
• Financial changes – Your financial situation can change dramatically in a surprisingly short period of time. Buying a home, selling a home, changes in value of your investments, even receiving an inheritance from someone else can all affect the value of your estate and create a reason to update your will. Tax laws can also change over time which can have a large effect on the tax obligations your loved ones will have after you’re gone, but you can often update your will to minimize tax obligations under new laws.
• Moving or relocation – If you move or relocate to another city or state you should also review your will. The laws related to wills and estates vary from state to state so if you move to another state be sure to have a qualified attorney in that state review your will. Even moving to a different city within the same state may mean making changes if that move means your financial situation has changed or you need to change designated personal representatives.
• Personal preferences – You may have keepsakes, valuables, and other items that you want to leave to specific family members or friends, so be sure to add your preferences to your will if and when they change. Adding a charity or new beneficiary is another reason to review and update your will.
How to make changes to your will
Making changes to your will can be a very simple and straightforward process, but it’s still important to enlist the help of a qualified attorney to ensure your changes are legally binding. In a handful of states it is acceptable to hand write changes on an existing will, but in the vast majority of state doing this can invalidate your will completely. Your attorney will generally help you write an amendment (called a codicil) to your will specifying any changes; if the changes are substantial enough then he or she may decide it’s best to write a new will altogether.
Once you have reviewed your will be sure to place updated copies in all of the appropriate places. These typically include a safe deposit box (if you have one); in your attorney’s office; and perhaps with the person designated as your personal representative and/or executor of your estate. Be sure your family knows where to find your will so they can fulfill your wishes without delay should something happen to you.