You’ve gotten over the first obstacle: sitting down and drafting your will. Great job – some people don’t even get that far!
But while it is appropriate to write a will at any age, over the years your financial or familial situation may change in big ways. If you fail to update your will, it may cause some drama among your family members after you pass away – or it could simply not reflect your personal views and wishes.
So when should you update your will? You don’t have to do it every six months, but there are certain life events that stand out as times where updating your will is important.
Divorce – If you write a will after you get married, you likely named your spouse as the beneficiary to a large part of your estate – and you might have even named them as your executor. After a divorce (or the death of a spouse), you may want to change this.
If you pass away and your will still includes your spouse as your personal representative or a beneficiary of your will, your family may have to contest the will and face a longer probate process. There are many documents and accounts you have to update after getting divorced or losing a spouse – don’t forget to change your will as well.
Becoming a Grandparent – Having a child is often the reason people draft their will in the first place, so hopefully it goes without saying that becoming a parent is a hugely important reason to update your will. But lots of people forget about this when it comes to grandchildren. Which means that they can unintentionally be left out!
Don’t fall into this trap. Your grandchildren may be a huge part in your life. Remember to add them to your will as your family grows larger.
One quick word about children – when updating your will, don’t forget about guardianship. In the event that you and your spouse both pass away, you want to make sure that you decide on a guardian for your children – and make it official by putting it in writing in your will.
(If, however, you would like to give assets or name a guardian for your pet, consider drafting a pet trust.)
Changes To Your Last Wishes – For religious or personal reasons, we may change our minds about being buried, cremated, or the type of funeral service that we would like to have after we pass away. Wills allow us to explicitly state how we would like these services to be carried out, and serve as the written, physical proof for our wishes. A verbal statement to a loved one may not hold up against what is written in your will, so be sure to update your will as your wishes change.
Changes in Health – Death may feel like it is decades away, but if you are diagnosed with a terminal illness, your timeline completely changes. Make sure these changes are reflected in your will, and consider the expenses of your illness. If you have been diagnosed with an illness like dementia or Alzheimer’s, you may want to add more documents to your estate plan to allow a loved one to make your final health and financial decisions.
Changes in Financial Situation – Your will deals primarily with your finances and your estate, so changes in these situations merit a change in your will. You cannot predict the future, but any upcoming setbacks or gains should be considered as you arrange your trusts and draft your will.
Changes in Probate Law – State laws and policies undergo constant changes and adjustments – you do not want a change in policy to cause a probate headache for your family. Communicate and check in with your estate planning attorney to find out how probate laws that may affect your will have changed.
Moving to Florida – Moving to Florida after retirement is a great way to settle down and relax, but may also wreak havoc on probate litigation for your family living elsewhere. Florida has specific state legislation regarding wills and probate that are important for new Floridians to know. Here are some important probate policies:
- If you have not signed a self-proving affidavit in Florida, one of the witnesses who watched you draft your will must be located and contacted before probate litigation can begin. Self-prove your will in Florida as soon as you move to make probate quicker and easier for your family.
- In Florida, your personal representative may only be a Florida resident or a blood relative. A financial institution outside the state may not serve as a personal representative.
- When you name your Power of Attorney, general statements about the power of attorney’s responsibilities and duties will not be seen as valid under Florida law. Ask your attorney to help you draft a new Powers of Attorney document that complies with Florida law.
Rewriting and updating your will multiple times requires a lifelong, trusting relationship with your estate planning attorney. Contact us today to begin planning for your and your family’s future.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the President of Wintter & Associates, P.A. , a four-lawyer trust and estate firm. Mr. Wintter is a Florida Bar Board-Certified Expert in Trust and Estate Law. With more than 28 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 Magazine for 2011, 2012, and 2014-2016 in Estate and Trust Litigation, and was selected for inclusion to the Best Lawyers in America in 2016 in the area of Estate and Trust Litigation.