Your will is like a car. It needs regular maintenance to stay in good working order. Life and circumstances change over time, and your will should reflect those changes. But unlike changing your oil, you can review and update your will in minutes right from your home computer.
Here are our top reasons to get you motivated along with a checklist to help you through the process.
1. Changes in Your Relationships or Your Family
Have your relationships with people named in your will possibly changed over the years? You may want to reconsider whether you still want to leave your jewels to your ex-best friend? Moreover, you, yourself, may have changed—perhaps you have developed a relationship with a charity or other organization you'd like to leave money to in your will.
On the other hand, life is also full of major life events that can usher iwonderful new people into your life through births, adoptions, and marriages. These events can include your own marriage or the birth or adoption of a child, but it can also include births of grandchildren, nieces, nephews, the children of friends, etc. that you may want to add to your will.
If you have had a child since your will was first written, you will want to review your will and name a guardian or guardians in the event of something happening to you or your spouse.
Also, if your children have reached the age of majority since you drafted your will, you may wish to consider revising certain bequests or even naming them as executors.
Go through your list of heirs, representatives, guardians, trustees, or executors. Consider whether their circumstances have changed in some way. For example, are they still of sound mind and capable of serving in the role you have designated? Have they passed away? These are definite reasons you may need to immediately update your will.
2. Changes in Assets
If your estate has experienced a substantial increase or decrease in value, it is essential to take another look at your will.
Perhaps you have bought or sold a major asset or started a business. In addition, you may have new insurance policies or pension plans for which you can name beneficiaries in your will.
3. Changes in Location
If you've moved out of the state where you executed your will, you should consult an attorney in your new location to determine whether it is still valid. State laws regarding wills vary, and you shouldn't assume that your old will meets your new state's requirements.
4. Regular Checkups
If you haven't looked at your will in a year or more, right now is probably a very good time to start your initial review. Remember, it is good practice to review your will yearly. With that in mind, you will want to establish a regular time after this initial review to do a checkup.
Some decide to review their will right around the end of the fiscal year when people start planning for their taxes.
Remember, finances and estate planning go hand in hand, so it's the perfect time to review your will and make sure all of your affairs are in good order.
If you are over 65 years old, it is also a good idea to review your will, especially because this is roughly the age when your IRA, 401(k), and or other qualified plans require you to begin taking your distributions.
5. Changes in Tax Laws
State and federal tax laws are constantly changing, so you will want to be aware of any changes that may affect your estate plan. Staying informed and consulting an attorney who specializes in wills and estate planning are your best bets.
Checklist of Items to Review
Here are a few things to consider as you review your will:
- Birth or adoption of a child/grandchild
- Death of someone named in your will
- Children have reached the age of eighteen
- A change in the circumstances of your executor, guardians, trustees, etc.
- You would like to provide for a charitable or other organization
- A significant increase or decrease in the value of your estate
- You have started a business
- A change in tax laws
- You are approaching the age at which you are required to begin taking distributions from your IRA, 401(k), or other qualified plan (usually 70 years old)
- You have moved out of state
- It has been three years or more since you have reviewed your will
A will just might be the most important legal document you'll ever sign. It protects your most important assets — your family. Without one, the courts — not you —decide what happens to your assets. They can even decide what happens to your children. So make sure to use this checklist to keep your will up-to-date and in good working order.