For most people, creating a will gives them peace of mind, knowing their estate will be distributed as they wish when they pass away. However, a will isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it document.
Major Life Events Often Necessitate Updates
Certain major life events should trigger you to review your will and potentially make changes. These include:
Marriage will revoke an existing will under Alabama law. Upon getting married, you’ll want to write a new will naming your spouse and revising how your estate is distributed. You may also want to update executors or trustees.
Following a divorce, you’ll want to update your will to remove your ex-spouse as a beneficiary or executor unless you wish to keep them in that role. You’ll also want to update how assets are distributed.
Birth or Adoption of a Child
Welcoming a new child into your life is joyous, but it also prompts an estate plan review. You’ll want to add the child as a beneficiary and may need to update guardianship clauses. Establishing trusts may also be wise.
Death of a Beneficiary or Executor
If an executor, trustee, or beneficiary named in your will dies, you’ll need to revise your will accordingly. Choose a new person to fill that role and reallocate any assets that were designated for the deceased.
Beneficiary Reaching Age of Majority
Once a minor beneficiary turns 18, you may want to revise how assets are distributed to them. Rather than naming a guardian, you can leave them assets outright or via trust.
Entering retirement is a major financial shift that may change your estate planning priorities. Review beneficiary designations on retirement accounts and update your will accordingly.
Changes in Assets Prompt Updates, Too
Your will may also need to be updated when your assets and net worth significantly change. Examples include:
- Purchasing a home or other real estate: Update your will to reflect how you want that property distributed. Establish ongoing trusts for minor children or beneficiaries.
- Selling real estate assets: If your will left a specific property to a beneficiary, you’ll need to update it if you no longer own that asset.
- Starting a business: Business interests should be accounted for in your will, via trusts or other planning vehicles.
- Large increase in net worth: With significant increases in net worth, review estate taxes and update planning strategies.
- Decrease in assets: You may need to revise distributions if assets specifically named in your will have been depleted.
Review Your Will at Least Every 3-5 Years
As a general rule of thumb, review your will at least every 3-5 years. Set a reminder to re-examine it and make any needed updates.
Even if you haven’t experienced any major life or asset changes, details within your will may need to be revised. For example, an executor, trustee, or guardian may have moved, gotten ill, or passed away. Beneficiaries may have also moved or had life changes impacting distributions.
A periodic review ensures your executors have current contact information, beneficiaries are properly provided for, and assets are distributed how you intend.
Don’t Forget Important Details
When reviewing or updating your will, be sure not to overlook any pertinent details about your assets and desired distributions. Important information to double-check includes:
- Full legal names and contact info for executors, trustees, guardians, and beneficiaries.
- Addresses for any real estate or tangible property you are distributing.
- Exact percentages, amounts, or details for distributions to each beneficiary. Avoid vague language.
- All your bank and investment accounts, including account numbers.
- Life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and pensions including full legal names of beneficiaries on these assets.
- Ownership percentages for any business interests.
- Existence of any trusts, powers of attorney, or joint accounts that may impact your will.
- Digital assets like social media accounts and “online assets” to be managed.
Ensuring all this detailed information is current and completely listed in your will helps avoid potential issues like assets not being properly distributed or beneficiaries being hard to locate. Taking time to update and verify these details now prevents problems for your loved ones later.
Work With an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney
While you can draft a simple will on your own, complex estate planning is best handled by a legal professional well-versed in wills, trusts, asset protection, and tax minimization.
An estate planning attorney can help you:
- Create customized plans for your unique situation.
- Ensure your will is legally valid under Alabama laws.
- Update your will and estate plan as needed over time.
- Establish estate planning structures like trusts.
- Reduce taxes on your estate.
- Address special circumstances like beneficiaries with disabilities.
The experienced will lawyers at the Law Offices of Brenton C. McWilliams can help you protect your legacy.
Contact their team today to review your will or create an estate plan tailored to your needs and goals.