Full of plot twists, unexpected surprises, and new characters, our lives would make for interesting books (minus the boring parts, of course!). As we stumble and stride into new chapters of our lives, our needs, wishes, and financial situations can change. To reflect changes in your life, it’s very important to keep your will up-to-date with your desires given your new situation.
There are many different types of life changes that may require you to update your last will and testament. Below, we’ve listed some of the most common examples.
Marriage. You may want to create a new will after getting married, and your new spouse should do the same. In Florida, your spouse will generally receive a portion of your estate after your death, so you should make your intentions clear in your will if you want your estate to be distributed differently.
Divorce. After a divorce, your wishes may change quite a bit from those of your pre-divorce self. It’s important to examine your will after a divorce and update it to indicate what you would like to leave to an ex-spouse, or to clarify how you would like the assets that would have gone to your ex-spouse distributed instead.
Non-married partnership. If you enter a special relationship with another person, you may want him or her to receive a portion of your estate. However, only married couples will automatically receive assets from each other’s estates, so if you want your new partner to inherit certain assets, you must make this clear in a new will.
Child birth. After welcoming a new child into the family, you should appoint a guardian for him or her that will be responsible for your care in the event of your death or incapacitation.
New stepchildren. Estate planning after a second marriage can be especially tricky, particularly if there are children from the initial marriage. Your new stepchildren will not automatically inherit a portion of your estate, so you should specify your intentions in your will if you would like to leave them assets or property.
Acquisition or loss of assets. If you obtain new property during your lifetime, you should update your will to account for these new assets. Similarly, if you lose certain property that you have willed to specific heirs, you should alter your will to remove provisions about such property.
Changes of heart. You may meet individuals or encounter organizations in your lifetime to whom you would like to leave gifts or money, or change your mind about the heirs you’ve chosen or how you want your assets to be distributed. If this is the case, you may need to create a new will to reflect these wishes.
The Process of Changing a Will
Unfortunately, the actual process of changing a will is not as simple as crossing out a graph or penciling in a new phrase. You must follow certain procedures to update your will—otherwise, it could be rendered invalid.
One of the most straightforward ways to change a will is to write a new one with the help of an estate planning attorney. You attorney can help you draft a new will that revokes all previous wills and reflects your current wishes. You must include certain language in your new will that states you revoke your old wills, and you may want to destroy any former wills to prevent confusion.
You may also update a will by adding a codicil—a formal amendment or addition that attaches to your original will. By adding a codicil, you may add or revoke small provisions in your will, or amend how you wish gifts to be distributed. Talk to your estate planning attorney to determine whether a codicil is the right choice in your situation, and for assistance in drafting the codicil amendment properly.
Whether you decide to create an entirely new will or update an existing one with a codicil, you should seek guidance from an estate planning attorney to ensure you carry out the procedures according to Florida law. If you do not follow certain steps and guidelines, you could inadvertently invalidate your entire will. If this occurs, Florida courts will disregard the provisions outlined in your will and distribute your property according to state statute.
To ensure your wishes are honored, consult with an estate planning attorney before attempting to make any changes to your will. A lawyer who has experience in Florida probate laws will be able to advise you on the best method of updating your will, and help you do so in a way that ensures your property and assets are distributed correctly and your surviving heirs are protected.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the founder of Wintter & Associates, P.A. and a board-certified expert in Trust and Estate matters by the Florida Bar. With more than 24 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers for 2011 and 2012 in Estate and Trust Litigation.