An estate plan is essential, not only for disposing of property, but for ensuring that your personal wishes are adhered to and the people important to you are provided for following your death. A typical plan may include a last will and testament, living will (possibly including a trust for children or pets) and power of attorney.
Creating a will is one of the most important steps in planning your estate. While many people think this is a one-time task, wills and other estate planning documents may need to be revised from time to time. If your will was written years ago, it is possible the contents no longer accurately reflect your wishes.
A good rule of thumb is to review important legal documents every three to five years. It may be time to consider updating your will if you haven’t looked at it in a while or have experienced any of the following life events since drafting it:
· A change in relationship status. Getting married, entering a civil union or registered domestic partnership, or being in a committed long-term relationship all have an impact an existing will.
Married people typically leave most or all of their property to the surviving spouse. If it is a second marriage and there are children from a previous relationship, the arrangements may be different. Keep in mind that a spouse cannot be left out of a will without his or her written consent.
Partners who enter a civil union or register their domestic partnerships with the state, where either is available, are generally treated like spouses for purposes of inheritance.
Unmarried partners, no matter how committed the relationship, inherit nothing without being named in a will. Make sure your will clearly spells out what property is being left to your partner.
· Divorce. In most states, divorce automatically nullifies any will provisions that leave assets to a former spouse or name him or her as executor. However, not every state has this rule so it may be necessary to make a new will. You may also want to change bequests to your former spouse’s children.
· Having or adopting a child. Welcoming a new child to the family always requires changes to a will. Even if property is not left to the child directly, a will is necessary to name a personal guardian responsible for raising the child if neither parent can.
· A significant change in the estate’s value. A will should be updated after buying or selling large assets, such as a home or business, or if there are significant increases or decreases in the value of your assets from when the existing will was made.
· Moving out of state. If you have moved out of the state where you drafted your will, you should consult an attorney in your new location to determine whether it is still valid. In addition, it is crucial to understand how the new state handles probate, property and estate and inheritance taxes.
· Changes in tax laws: Changes in state and federal tax laws may affect you and your beneficiaries. Speak with an accountant and an attorney who specializes in estate planning about any changes you may need to make to your will.
You can amend, modify, update, or revoke your will at any time, provided you are mentally competent.
With modern word-processing technology, usually the best course of action is to revoke your old will and write a new one. If you want to make a substantial change or a number of small changes, this is usually the best option to ensure that your previous will is not honored after your death.
Whether you need to review and update your current will or create a new will or other estate planning documents, we can help. Contact us at 973-509-8500 x213 or email us at LFarber@LFarberLaw.com.
The contents of this writing are intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances.