Once I’ve planned my estate, do I have to worry about it again?
The short answer is “most likely”, since life doesn’t stand still. After you’ve crafted your initial estate plan, your circumstances are likely to change. For example, you may have more children, acquire more assets, have a change in marital status, or experience changes in your relationships with those whom you’ve named as beneficiaries. These and other life events may require changes to your estate plan.
It’s a good idea to review your will or trust document along with your inventory of assets and list of beneficiaries every three or four years to make sure your past decisions continue to meet your current needs. Do not think of estate planning as a one-time transaction, but as a process that works best if periodically reviewed.
How do I change my will after it has been executed?
You can change, add to or even revoke your will any time before your death as long as you are physically and mentally competent to make the change. An amendment to a will is called a codicil.
You can’t simply cross out old provisions in your will and scribble in new ones if you want the changes to be effective. You have to formally execute a codicil, using the same procedures that were used when you executed the will itself. The codicil should be dated and kept with the will. It’s a good idea to check with your lawyer before signing a codicil or revoking your will.
When should I update my will?
You may need to modify your present will by executing a codicil or preparing an entirely new will to account for major changes in your life or in your financial situation.
For example, the purchase of a new house, divorce or remarriage, moving to another state, big jump (or decline) in income, birth of children, death of relatives, etc. all constitute major life or financial changes. In fact, it’s a good idea to periodically review your will and update it as necessary.
When and how should I revoke my will entirely?
Sometimes, when you have a major life change, such as a divorce, remarriage, winning the lottery, having more children, getting the last child out of the house, it’s a good idea to rewrite your will from scratch rather than making a lot of small changes through codicils. You can do this by executing a formal statement of revocation and executing a new will that revokes the old one.
What happens if I fail to keep my will up-to-date?
Some life changes may be accommodated by the law, regardless of what your will provides. For example, if you have a new child, and don’t explicitly say you don’t want him or her to inherit anything, the law will give the child his or her legal share of your estate. Likewise, a new spouse will be entitled to inherit a portion of your estate even if you fail to specifically name him or her in your estate plan.
Moreover, if you come into property that is not accounted for by the will, it becomes part of your residuary estate; it will pass to the person or institution who gets everything not specifically identified in the will.
However, it’s always best to modify your will periodically to account for such life changes or “after-acquired assets.” If you don’t, you run the risk of paying higher taxes, bequeathing property to people you may not intend to, or creating confusion (and possibly probate delays or even litigation) among your grieving relatives after you’re gone.
Other estate-planning documents you should take care to keep up-to-date include IRAs, insurance policies, income savings plans such as 401(k) plans, government savings bonds (if payable to another person), and retirement plans.
You should keep a record of these documents with your will and update them as needed when you update your will.
What if I set up a revocable living trust, then change my mind about it?
You modify a trust through a procedure called an amendment. You should amend your trust when you want to change or add beneficiaries, take assets from the trust, or change trustees.
You don’t have to write a formal amendment to the trust to add property to it since a properly drafted trust will contain language giving you the right to include properly acquired after the trust is drafted.
Just make sure the new property is titled as being owned by the trust and list it on the schedule of assets in the trust. You must amend the trust if the newly acquired property is going to a different beneficiary than the one already named in the trust or if the trust has more than one beneficiary listed.
You should revoke, not amend, your trust when making major changes. You revoke a trust by destroying all copies of it or writing “revoked” on each page and signing them. When you create a new trust to replace a revoked one, give the new trust a different name, usually one containing the date the new document was executed.
In short, regardless of what assets you have, who you choose to receive your assets, and how you choose to give them to them, you need estate planning. At Resnick Law, P.C. we can assist you in gaining the piece of mind and tranquility that a properly prepared estate plan allows.