How Often Should You Review Your Will?
A good rule of thumb is to review important legal documents every three to five years. A will review is also recommended in the following scenarios:
- Upon the birth or adoption of a child, grandchild or another family member
- Following a marriage or divorce
- When someone named in your will passes away
- When children, grandchildren or other heirs reach adulthood.
- Upon changes in your executor, guardian, and/or trustee’s circumstances
- When the value of your estate significantly increases or decreases
- Upon starting a business
- Following changes in tax laws
- Following a move to a different state
- Following the diagnosis of a chronic or terminal illness
How to Review and Revise Your Will
If you haven’t looked at your will in a while, now is a good time to begin your initial review. You won’t need a lawyer for this first part. Consider the heirs, guardians, trustees and executors named in your will, and ask yourself these questions:
- Is anyone missing from the document?
- Is someone listed who shouldn’t be any longer?
- Have any of the listed individuals’ circumstances changed since this will was drafted or last updated? (For example, is your executor still of sound mind and capable of serving in the role you have designated for them?)
- How do you feel about the way your assets are to be divided?
If questions arise or revisions are needed, then it is time to make an appointment with your attorney. They will recommend either drafting a signed and witnessed codicil that is added to the original document or officially revoking previous versions of your will and drafting a new signed and witnessed the will. If your will is valid and still represents how you’d like your estate to be handled, enjoy the added peace of mind that comes with confirming your affairs are in order.
Reasons to Update Your Will
- Relationships change.
Family dynamics and romantic relationships can change considerably over the years. A second marriage may have brought wonderful new people into your life. Maybe one of your beneficiaries has passed away. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren may have been born, who are not listed in your will. If a child or other family member has reached the age of majority (18 in most states), you may wish to consider revising certain bequests or naming them as executors. Although double-checking your estate planning documents probably isn’t at the forefront of your mind in these scenarios, it is recommended that you review your will following significant changes in your family and personal life.
- Assets change.
If your estate has experienced a substantial increase or decrease in value, it’s important to take a careful look at your estate plan. Are there tax consequences associated with your existing will? Do you want a charity to benefit from your newly acquired wealth? Maybe you bought or sold a major asset, such as a home, or you started a new business. Perhaps you have acquired a new, sentimentally valuable belonging that you know a certain loved one will cherish. Even if the changes to your estate are small, you may wish to change how your assets are dispersed.
- Locations change.
If you have moved out of the state where you drafted your will, you should consult an attorney in your new location to determine whether it is still valid. In addition to ensuring your will’s validity, it is crucial to understand how the new state handles probate, property, and estate and inheritance taxes.
- Tax laws change.
State and federal tax laws are constantly changing, and you want to be aware of how they may affect you and your beneficiaries. For most people, a will—the cornerstone of estate planning—is sufficient. But, as wealth, assets, and circumstances change, more extensive legal and financial strategies may be necessary for efficient tax planning. Do your best to stay informed and consult with an accountant and an attorney who specializes in estate planning.