McClellan Legal LLC Estate Planning & Tax Assessment Blog

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Top 5 Triggers for Updating Your Will

When should you update your Will?  A Will should be updated when your personal circumstances change, which could happen at any time.  The passage of time in itself is not a trigger to change your Will.  Your Will is like your home: if properly maintained, your home will last a very long time.  Likewise, if properly updated, your Will can also have a greater longevity.  

The most common triggers for updating your Will include: changes in family, wealth, health, state residence, and tax laws.   You should take time to periodically consider each of the update triggers at least once a year.  That certainly does not mean that you should update your Will every year.  However, an annual checkup will ensure that you monitor these update triggers. 

Trigger #1: Change in Family

The most common trigger for updating a Will is a change in family.  Your family could add new members by birth (e.g., children or grandchildren) or lose family members by death.   It is important that your Will accurately reflects the actual people that survive you.  You certainly don’t want to forget the new baby and you don’t want to make things more complicated by leaving an inheritance to someone who has already passed. 

You should update your Will according to any other changes in family circumstance. These changes may impact your previous selections for fiduciaries (e.g., executor, guardian for minors, power of attorney, etc.) as these fiduciaries may become unwilling or unable to effectively serve.   Additionally, your relationship with a beneficiary or a fiduciary may sour over time, creating an unfortunate circumstance that would need to be addressed.  Further, at the time of your initial Will, your children may not have been mature enough to serve as back-up fiduciaries.  As they mature, many people replace their initial selections with fiduciaries that will likely outlive them.

Trigger#2: Change in Wealth

When your wealth changes drastically, you would benefit from reevaluating the existing Will to reconsider the size or percentage of inheritances.  A change in wealth may also lead to tax or charitable issues that were not previously considered based on the previous wealth circumstances. 

Trigger #3: Change in Health

As your health changes, it is critical that we review the existing Will to ensure that the Will remains optimal.  Also, you must consider the health of your fiduciaries (e.g., executor, guardian, trustee, agents for power of attorney, etc.).   For example, your initial appointee for executor may no longer be the best selection if his/her health has deteriorated.

Trigger #4: Change in State Residence

If your Will was properly executed in one state (e.g., Delaware), then it will likely be valid when you move to a different state (e.g., Pennsylvania).  Each state has different laws regarding the administration of a Will.   These differences are often minor, but sometimes they can drastically impact your planning.  For example, states vary regarding the required residence of an executor, inheritance tax laws, and whether a child can be disinherited by omission.  Therefore, if your existing estate plan was executed in a different state than your state residence, it would be worthwhile to have a local estate planning attorney review it. 

Trigger #5: Change in Tax Laws

Even if there are no changes to your circumstances (e.g., family, wealth, health, & state residence), it is important for a Will to be reviewed for changes in tax and legal strategies.  Periodic meetings with your attorney will increase the likelihood that your estate planning documents remain optimal. 

If your Will is over five years old, we recommend a professional review because it is likely that one or more life changes could necessitate an update to your Will.  Also, your incapacity planning documents (Powers of Attorney and Living Will) should also be updated periodically.  Please contact us if you would like to review your existing estate plan.

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