There are two distinct aspects to successful estate planning: planning and maintenance. Unfortunately, many people ignore the second piece and end up with estate plans that are out-of-date and sometimes even declared invalid.
So, why does your estate plan require maintenance?
Our lives are always changing. We marry, we divorce, we have children and grandchildren. We buy new homes, new cars and new jewelry and over time, we may accumulate new investments and property. As a result, the estate plan you have today may no longer suit your needs this time next year but the only way to know for sure is to review your plan on a regular basis.
The first step to updating your Last Will and Testament is determining what changes need to be made. Do you have new beneficiaries in your life, or has a beneficiary passed away? If so, you must update your Will to be certain there will be no confusion of property division during probate. You should also update this estate document any time you buy or sell property that is or should be listed in your estate plan. If the circumstances of any beneficiaries have changed, you may want to change your plan. A beneficiary who is getting divorced, has become disabled, or is having financial problems can have special protections to ensure their inheritance is preserved.
Once you have determined what you need to change you should meet with your attorney to determine your best course of action. There are two ways to change a last Will and Testament: – amend with a Codicil or create an brand new Will.
A Codicil is best for small changes such as beneficiary name changes due to marriage or changing your estate executor. If you wish to make large changes such as adding a spouse or drastically redistributing your assets your attorney may advise you to create a new Will. Your new Last Will and Testament will state that you revoke all previous Wills. This is an important feature to help avoid any confusion during estate probate.
Once you have updated your Will, you should safely store it and notify your estate executor of the location. If you have created a new Will, be sure to destroy all copies of old Wills. If you do not, there may be uncertainty at probate. This could occur if an old Will is found by your executor or other loved ones. They may assume there is no additional Will, and your official final wishes will not be considered.
The final step to updating your Last Will and Testament is to update all other estate documents to mirror those changes. This may include a Revocable Living Trust, powers of attorney, beneficiary accounts, and life insurance policies.
We recommend reviewing your Will or other estate plan with your attorney at least once every three years.