My small law practice always gets busy come January since “getting your will done” is just one of those adult things people think about at the beginning of each new year. For all of those that have already have completed their will it may be a good use of your time to review the contents of the will since life changes.
Items to Think About When Reviewing Your Will
While this list is no where near exhaustive it should at least provide you with some ideas of what to look within your document and even outside your document when reviewing your Will.
Change in Family Dynamics
A change in family dynamics may effect the distribution of your assets, or just as likely, your old testamentary intent is not the same as your current testamentary intent.
- Did you get married or divorced since your last took a look at your will?
- Did you have children after your will was prepared and you live in a State without an After Born Child Statute?
- Did any of your children get married and you don’t trust your new son-in-law or daughter-in-law?
- Are any of your children estranged?
- Anyone in your life pick up a new drug habit?
- Anyone likely to spend some time on government benefits?
Your Children Got Older
As is prone to happen in life time passes. When you first created your will and it stated that your then 5 year old wasn’t going to receive assets outright (as opposed to in Trust) until she was 25 that may have been fine. However, you take a look and she is 24 and has no idea how to handle the little money she has nevertheless getting a check for what could be more than her entire earnings record…it may be time to check out your documents!
You No Longer Speak to Your Fiduciaries
Some of the most important decisions you’ll make when you prepare your will is the naming of important people in your life that you trust. They may be referred to as different terms in different jurisdictions but basically they are:
- Guardian(s) – who are going to take care of your minor children if both parents pass?
- Trustee(s) – who is going to take care of the stuff you leave behind for your heirs? This may be the same person as your Guardian, but it doesn’t have to be.
- Executor/Executrix – who is going to make sure that, what you want to happen after you die, actually happens?
People enter and leave your life all the time, it would be a damn shame if you named your best friend when you were a child as Guardian but you haven’t talked to them in 5 or 10 years! Or the person you have appointed as a Trustee has since been indicted for a ponzi scheme.
Change in Assets
Maybe when you created your Will you were a struggling parent with basically no worries, well, fast forward a decade or so and you have amassed a good amount of assets. That may mean something different with regards to how you distribute your assets. It could be as simple wanting additional protection for your heirs or it could be as complicated as building out your charitable giving desire.
Change in Tax Laws
Probably the least applicable to people when compared to the other reasons on this list, a change in the Federal or even your State’s estate tax law may prompt you to revisit your estate planning documents. The recent trend has to lower the estate tax burden on families so an increase in assets is likely to get you to see your attorney rather than an estate tax law change, but doesn’t mean it is impossible the pendulum swings the other way one day.
Please Do Not Make Changes Without Speaking to Legal Counsel
I beg of you that if you do find something wrong with your estate plan, please see qualified legal counsel. I have seen so many mistakes happen with people trying to use an online service or try to edit their own docs. I once encountered a gentleman worth well north of 7 figures take a pen to his original and properly executed will. He then dated the changes after the date of the will…well in New York this is unenforceable and he had no clue.