Creating and maintaining a strong estate plan is an important priority for just about every adult in America, regardless of how much personal property a person possesses. However, for those who have significant estates or those with substantial debt with which they do not wish to trouble their beneficiaries, a strong estate plan is essential.
In most instances, the heart of an estate plan is the creator's last will. While it is arguably better to have an outdated will than no will at all, those who do not regularly review their wills and update them may generate costly problems. When it comes time to read the will and disperse the creator's estate according to the wishes laid out in the document, a will that has not received regular review and updates may cause serious complications, ultimately draining the value of the estate and potentially causing conflict between beneficiaries.
Whether you are considering crafting your own will or need to review and update it, now is the time to protect yourself and those you love. Your will is only as effective as it is accurate, so make it a priority to review your own will and make necessary updates as soon as you can.
Life changes mean legal changes
Creating a will is like taking a Polaroid picture of your estate at the moment that the will is created, capturing both the state of your assets and liabilities at the time as well as your wishes. However, over time, your assets and liabilities may change significantly, as may your wishes for your estate.
Far too often, people create wills and then simply let them lie in a safe, deposit box or other secure location, and forget about them. In order to avoid the complications that this can create, it is wise to review a will at least every five years.
You may need to alter your will as you experience changes in circumstance and obligation, such as:
- Marriage to a spouse or divorce from a spouse
- The death of a spouse or beneficiary
- Remarriage after divorce or death of a spouse
- Birth of a beneficiary
- Marriage or divorce of a beneficiary
- Acquisition of significant assets
- Loss of assets
- Significant changes in income
- Alterations in the law that affect your wishes
If you experience these changes and do not alter your will accordingly, you may accidentally create conflicts in your will itself, or may stoke conflicts among your beneficiaries. If, for instance, your will outlines how you plan to leave your assets to your wife and three children, but does not account for your divorce and remarriage, your new spouse may take issue with being left out of the will entirely, and may challenge the will after you die. Whether they succeed or not, the process may greatly injure the family as a whole.
Protect yourself with planning
If you hope to avoid these complications, regularly reviewing and altering your will to reflect changes in your circumstances and the law is a good policy. In general, it is wise to review and amend your will soon after you experience any significant life change, or soon after learning of changes in the law that may impact your plans.
Even if you do not believe that you experienced such life changes recently, it is wise to examine a will periodically, because the law often changes without notice. A strong legal strategy in your estate plan helps you stay ahead of threats and complications, allowing you to protect your rights and secure the legacy you wish to leave behind.