If you’ve written your will, you’ve already gotten a great start on your estate planning! But now that you’ve created a will, don’t just put it in a drawer and forget about it. As your life changes, your will should change, too.
A good rule of thumb is to update your will every three to five years. However, if something big changes in your life, you may need to update it sooner. Here are a few times you might need to update your will:
When your life changes
When something in your life drastically changes, you should check your will and see if anything needs updating. For example, you will definitely want to make changes if a loved one mentioned in your will dies. Other life changes may prompt a review, such as a big move or a significant change in health status. You might also take a look if you start a new business or job or get a new pet.
Since a will also discusses guardianship of minors, if you have a child or gain care of anyone under 18, you should update your will to provide for them and name a guardian to care for them in your absence. Otherwise, the court will appoint a guardian with no input from you. You should also update your will if you’ve been caring for a minor who is now a legal adult.
When your relationships change
As time passes, your relationships with friends and family members will shift. Relationships change naturally as family members get married, divorced, or have children. But also consider that conflict can change your relationships with others. Every new relationship – or lost relationship – doesn’t require an update to your will. However, if there is a change with someone you’ve named as a beneficiary, guardian, executor, or any other role in your will, a change may be necessary.
You should also update your will if your own marital status changes, whether through marriage, death, or divorce. All three of those events can cause upheaval in your life, and it’s easy to forget to update your will. Once you have space to think, be sure to set aside time to review your will. This is especially important if you have a blended family. You may want to make sure that children from your previous marriage are taken care of.
Additionally, if relationships between your beneficiaries or other family members become volatile, you may want to update your will to make it more secure. If you’re worried about someone challenging your will, you could include a no-contest clause. This clause would disinherit the person if they challenge the will in court. Make sure to consult a lawyer to learn about your state’s specific laws if you’re considering a no-contest clause.
When your financial situation changes
Since your will lays out your wishes for your property and assets, you’ll want to update your will when your financial situation shifts dramatically. This doesn’t mean you need to readjust your will every time your net worth fluctuates. But if you experience significant gains or losses, like if you inherit a large amount of money from another family member or suffer a large financial setback, you may want to take another look at your will. A change in your assets may make you reconsider how you distribute your belongings, or you may want to set up a living trust.
Also, pay attention to any specific pieces of property you’ve named in your will. Conflict might ensue if, for example, you’ve named your daughter as the heir to your antique desk, but you later sell it or give it to your son for his new house. Keep track of any specific items you’ve mentioned and update your will as needed.
When laws change
Just as life changes unpredictably, laws can change that affect your will. Estate tax laws directly affect the proceeds of your will, and as other laws are passed and amended, they could also impact your will. Plus, if you move to a different state or country, laws about wills may be different. Some states ask you to use a different number of witnesses or require you to include certain statements in your will. If you’re unsure what laws affect your will, ask your attorney if there are any changes you need to make.
While the events above are great signs that you should check your will, you don’t need a big life change to update your will. It’s up to you to decide how you want your assets distributed, so you can make changes whenever you wish, as long as you are of sound mind.
As you make changes to your will, make sure to exchange your updated copies for any out-of-date versions to avoid confusion. Your new will should make any old versions invalid, but it’s a good idea to destroy any copies of your original will. If you have your will on file with your lawyer or have given copies to any family members, make sure to give them the updated version.
After you’ve updated your will, don’t forget to check your other estate planning documents! Your powers of attorney, emergency contacts, and funeral plan might need to be updated, too, so take a look at your documents and see if anything has changed.
DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary. Only undertake estate planning with the help and assistance of an attorney licensed in your state.