It is general knowledge for most of the public that every adult needs a will if they have any property. Too often, however, those who create a will simply "set it and forget it," leaving their estate open to numerous complications. While having some form of a will is usually better than having no will at all, it is crucial to update your will any time that you experience a significant life event that may alter the will's terms.
Even if you don't experience significant life changes after establishing your will, the laws that govern estate planning may shift significantly at both a state and federal level without much fanfare or publicity. Whether you experience any of the life changes we discuss here or not, it is still wise to review your will every three to five years to make sure that changes in the law do not affect the will and your wishes for your estate.
Life changes to consider
Depending on when you establish your will and the path your life takes, you may encounter a number of significant experiences that demand attention. These may include:
- Getting married or remarried
- Getting divorced
- The death of a spouse or other beneficiary, such as a child
- Gaining family members, through birth, adoption or marriage
- Significant increase or decrease in assets
- Changes in your own preferences and wishes for your estate
Each of these present opportunities for your will to create complications if you don't address them in the document directly and as soon as possible. Putting off estate planning decisions is rarely wise, especially considering that none of us is guaranteed another day, let alone months or years.
Why update a will?
Let's say that your will states that you wish to leave certain property to your first wife or husband, but the marriage ultimately does not last. Some time later, you meet someone new and you decide to get married. Without altering your will, your first spouse may have a significant claim on a great deal of your property, because you named them as the recipient in your will and never changed it. This is more common than you might think, because many people who share children with a former spouse choose to leave their children's parent resources to ensure that their children have what they need.
The simple truth is that a will is most effective when it is properly prepared and well thought out, taking into consideration a host of complicated legal issues before they arise. If you allow your will to become inaccurate because you do not update it, you only make things more complicated and frustrating for those you love the most when it comes time to distribute your estate and execute your wishes.
It is wise to protect your legacy and estate with a well-built will, but make sure that you update it regularly to keep those protections strong and ensure that your wishes are clear to your loved ones and beneficiaries.