When to Update Your Will

A will is an important estate planning document that describes how your property should be distributed after you pass away. Most people put a lot of thought into creating their will. They consider providing for their family, naming guardians for their children and supporting various charities, for example. They properly execute their wills and make sure that they are put in safe places where they will be easily accessible when they are needed. Once that is accomplished, it is easy to cross it off of the list of things to do and forget about it. However, a will is a document that should be periodically reviewed to make sure that it still meets your inheritance objectives.
Common Situations When a Will Should be Reviewed
A will should be periodically reviewed every few years to make sure that it still accurately reflects how you want your assets to be distributed when you die. It is particularly important to review your will when:
  • You get married: you likely want to add your spouse to your will when you get married. Some states require that a spouse inherit a percentage of your property regardless of a will but that may be less than you intend your spouse to inherit or, pursuant to state law, your spouse may not inherit anything.
  • You get divorced: in order to ensure that your ex-spouse does not inherit your property upon your death your will must be revised at the time of a divorce, assuming that your spouse was included in the will that you are revising.
  •  You have children: when you have children you may wish to name a guardian and set up a financial trust for the economic well being of your children should you pass away before they reach the age of majority
  • Your children reach the age of majority: you may wish to change the amount that you provide for your children or change the way in which the money or property is provided to them when they become adults.
  • You have grandchildren: if you want to provide specific bequests of money or property to your grandchildren then your will needs to be revised to reflect the changes.
  • Your financial situation changes significantly: you may wish to provide for additional beneficiaries or add charitable beneficiaries to your will if your financial situation significantly improves. You may also need to revise your will to account for estate tax implications.
  • You move out of state: different states have different estate taxes and you may need to revise your will to account for the different tax structure. Therefore, it is important to have a local estate planning attorney review your will when you move to a new state.
How Can I Update My Will?
There are two ways to update your will. You can either legally revoke your previous will and execute a new will or you can execute a codicil to your existing will. Generally, if you are making small adjustments to your will then a codicil, or amendment, is a cost efficient and legally enforceable way to update your will. For example, if you now have a vacation home to bequeath then you may do so by executing a codicil to your existing will. A codicil must be executed in the same way that a will is executed in your state. 
If you are making substantial changes to your will, such as including or excluding a person and significantly changing the allocations of your property then you may wish to revoke your will and execute a new will. An estate planning attorney can help you develop and execute a codicil or a new will based on what is appropriate for your individual situation.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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