If you are an Orlando resident, you might be surprised to know that approximately 55 percent of American adults don’t have a will. For those under the age of 34, the percentage swells to 71 percent. Another disturbing statistic: 75 percent of American parents with minor children don’t have a will, either. Baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964) fare somewhat better: 59 percent of them have planned for the orderly distribution of their property after their demise via a legally binding and well-prepared will.
Failing to Update Your Will
Why do so many people neglect to draw up a will? Well, the honest ones will tell you what the rest won’t say: they simply don’t want to think about their death. So, who does? But that doesn’t mean that laying the burden of deciding how to dispose of your estate after you die upon your heirs, or the courts, is a responsible thing to do. It’s not. Of course, the 45 percent of us who do have wills shouldn’t be overly proud of ourselves, either, if we just draw them up, stuff them into a drawer and then forget about them, forever.
Why Update Your Will?
The fact is, if you don’t update your will on a regular basis, you may be leaving behind a technically binding, but effectively haphazard directive that may no longer bear any relation to reality. So many things in life change between the day you sign your will and the day it’s offered in a court of law as your final testament, that neglecting to change your will when circumstances change, is just as irresponsible as not having one at all. Indeed, not only do many state laws ignore certain terms of an outdated will, a will that does not reflect a decedent’s current state of affairs is fodder for probate delays and other legal challenges, as well as potentially nasty familial conflicts.
Consider updating your will when any of the following occur:
Changes in Your Relationships
Life is a never-ending cavalcade of relationships. People are born and people die. Friends come and go. Families change through births and marriages. There are many reasons why a change in your relationships might necessitate an update of your will. Maybe the people who you have initially named in your will to inherit your assets when you die are not the same ones you would want to leave your estate to, today. Suppose you have divorced and remarried. Do you still want your former spouse to claim a sizable portion of your assets?
Maybe a named heir or beneficiary has already died; or the person you named as your estate’s executor is no longer the best choice to oversee the dispersal of your property. What if you need to re-appoint guardians of your minor children because those who were formerly designated have moved away or can no longer assume the responsibility? Perhaps your children have already reached their maturity and you wish to rethink how you want to split up your property among them. Or, you may wish to allocate a portion of your assets to a charitable organization, or to grandchildren who were not even born when you first drew up your will.
The point is: any meaningful change in the circumstances of those named in your will, or your relationship to them, or the appearance of new people in your life who you would want to include in some way or another in your will, requires that you update the information as soon as possible, so that when you die, your most recent wishes are honored.
Changes in Your Assets
You should update your will to reflect any substantial change in your assets or the value of your estate – either positive or negative. If you have new insurance policies, pensions, or retirement accounts that allow you to name beneficiaries to those resources, you might want to adjust your will accordingly. If you started a business after you first drew up your will, you will also want to revisit it in order to add directives about how you want your business affairs to be administered after you die.
Changes in Location
Different states have different laws regarding the validity of a will and the assigning of assets subject to probate. If you move to another state after you have drawn up your will, don’t assume that it will meet your new state’s legal requirements. You may have to update your will or have it completely rewritten.
Changes in Tax Laws
Your will is part of your overall estate plan in the sense that it is impacted by state and federal tax laws. Tax regulations are constantly changing as part of the political process and sometimes those changes will affect your financial responsibilities – and those of your heirs – to the government. Update your will to comply with a change in a tax law, or to protect more of your assets from the taxman.
How to Change Your Will
The first thing to understand is that you cannot change your will by crossing out words, lines or sections, jotting notes in the margins, or otherwise rewriting it in an informal fashion. You only have two legally acceptable options if you decide to update your will: you can prepare and sign a new will that revokes the earlier one and have it witnessed and processed in the appropriate manner; or you can prepare and sign a codicil to your existing will.
A codicil is a separate document that adds to, or amends, the terms of your original will. It too, must be written and witnessed in the appropriate legal way. A codicil is a functional option if you only have to make a few small changes in the overall language or intent of your original will. After your death, the two documents will be read and interpreted together.
While there are now ways for an individual to create his or her own will using any number of computer programs or online services, it is still advisable to contract the services of a competent estate attorney when drawing up or updating a will. Laws change and the last thing you would want is to have your will declared invalid by a probate court because it is somehow legally deficient.
Contact an Orlando Estate Planning Attorney
At John R. Samaan, P.A. we are ready to help you write or update your will, as well as advise you on all other aspects of successful estate planning. Contact us for a free estate planning consultation.