A majority of Americans don’t have a will prepared to protect their property and assets when they pass, ensuring the right family members and loved ones will assume responsibility for them. In fact, as of 2017, as many as 6 in 10 adults in the United States had no such estate planning,1 although that trend shifts among older generations, with 58% of adults ages 53-71 and 81% of adults 72 and older having them.1
So we know estate planning is certainly more common among seniors, where fewer variables are likely to change within the assets, benefactors, and executors involved. But there is more to a will than simply assigning a loved one to inherit your house. And as such, certain life circumstances and events can change between the day you first write a will and the day it will be enacted. Your will certainly can always be up to date so that it reflects those life changes, whether you update it every five years or more.
So, when and why would one go about changing their will when life’s circumstances call for it?
- Cases for Amending a Will (10)
Not every life event mandates changes to your will. However, there are 10 cases whereby wills should always be amended.
While we may associate writing a will as a task reserved for the elderly, one of the most valuable functions of a will is that a testator (the person writing their will) can assign future guardians of their children. For this reason, becoming a parent for the first time is actually a common reason people write their first will. As such, it’s good practice to keep this updated if and when that second, third, or more bundles of joy come into the family as well.
In the event one parent passes, guardianship of a minor should fall with the surviving spouse. However, if both parents were to tragically die without a will, the state must find a suitable fit to care for minors. This could ultimately result in children becoming wards of the state.2
While exact laws vary state by state, a divorce typically revokes any gifts that were intended for the now-former spouse.3 This means any money or property originally planned for that spouse now has no specified heir, so your amended will should address this once you’ve finalized a divorce.
If your will’s executor dies before you do, the court is tasked with naming an agent to carry out their duties — seeing over assets and ensuring your assets are distributed exactly as you wished.4 Of course, you can simply appoint a new executor yourself and/or select co-executors and alternate executors (people who can step in as executor should your original choice be incapacitated, die, or a judge disqualifies them) as a proactive measure.
You may choose to name alternate beneficiaries in your will in order to account for possible death. However, if your intent is to pass an asset onto a group so that it’s split among them — ”my children”, for example — then a death within that group will also inevitably change how assets and property are distributed. Would you like the property to pass down to the beneficiary’s children? Should property and assets simply be split evenly among the survivors of the group? These are questions to consider if there is a death among your beneficiaries.
As you’re noticing by this point, your property, assets, and even the structure of your family will change over time, and all these factors can impact how you view your will. You can choose any timeframe for yourself, but it’s good practice to simply check in on your will every so often and ensure your original wishes match your current ones.
Regardless of where you own property, the acquisition of a new house, for example, should be accounted for in your most up-to-date will.
Logically, if you no longer own something that is in your original will, like a house, for example, that property won’t be available to pass on to the listed beneficiary. That’s not a complicated problem to solve if an executor gets to that item and it’s no longer available to pass on; the beneficiary simply won’t get it (or possibly anything).
So consider if you’d like that beneficiary to still receive some form of inheritance. The same should be considered when…
It is common to include investments like stock holdings in a will.5 While those stocks hold a certain value when you first invest, their value likely won’t be the same when you pass them on. If that investment returned a sizable profit, you may want to split the amount differently among your beneficiaries, you may want part of that windfall earmarked for charity now, or any other manner of distribution that’s different from your original plan.
Your will will enter probate in the state in which you live when you die,6 therefore, you should be sure that your will accounts for the state laws that will apply to it. Everything from taxes to methods of distribution or probate period can be impacted by where the will is executed.6
Estate tax laws change constantly, meaning that any new legislation may impact your will.7 Tax cuts, marital and family status, business succession, and plenty of other variables may change with new state laws as time passes.