Reviewing and Updating Your Will
June 6, 2023
Life is fluid, and we all experience many changes in our lives, some minor, some major. “Into the same river you cannot step twice” is how the Ancient Greeks viewed the ups and downs of life. With this in mind, if you’ve created a last will and testament, you need to review it periodically to take into account any changes your life has undergone. To do so annually is probably a good benchmark, but some changes may create conditions to revisit your will more quickly.
For all your estate planning needs, including will creation and revision, in or around Tonawanda, New York, contact the Law Office of Corey J. Rossi. We will meet with you, discuss your life circumstances with you, and advise you on how best to approach changing your will, either through an amendment (known legally as a codicil) or with a complete rewrite. Our team also proudly serves clients in Amherst, Wheatfield, and throughout Erie County and Niagara County.
Updating Your Will
Life circumstances change in both big and small ways. You lose or sell a property or you obtain new property. These events must be accounted for in your will. You get divorced or remarry. Obviously, this will require several changes to your will. Smaller yet significant events (say, you get a new job) may not affect the designation of your assets at all.
At any rate, it is important to have periodic reviews of your will, and to do so with the help and counsel of an experienced estate planning attorney. Ambiguous wording in a will can lead to contests in court. Your attorney can also attest to your fitness of mind when you created your will, thereby heading off any contests based on that legal requirement for a will to be valid.
When to Update Your Will
Specific major events in your life will no doubt necessitate revisiting and updating your will. Let’s look at some:
DIVORCING: It’s possible if you leave assets to your ex-spouse in your will that, under New York law, those assets will still go to them when you pass on. The law gets a bit tricky, however. Say, for instance, you bequeath your entire estate to your spouse with your children as alternates. In that case, the former spouse’s provision will be voided, and the children will get everything.
In other words, you need to work with an attorney to create a new will to account for your new circumstances. You don’t want a spouse you’ve just settled with divorce-wise to potentially gain additional assets because you forgot to update your will.
MARRYING: Whether marrying for the first time or remarrying, this is an event that demands probably a completely new will to account for your new reality. There may even be stepchildren involved, as well as children from a previous marriage. It can get tricky and complicated. Discuss everything and every option with your attorney.
ADDING OR LOSING BENEFICIARIES: As mentioned just above, if you remarry, your spouse may have children he or she would expect you to take care of. Another possibility is that you start a new family. All these new potential beneficiaries must be taken into consideration. On the flip side, perhaps a brother passes away who is one of your beneficiaries. This must be reflected in your will.
GAINING OR LOSING PROPERTY: Real property is one thing. Joint ownership or what’s called co-tenancy will transfer the property outside of probate proceedings. Other items of real value—such as art collections, antique furniture, or vintage automobiles—must be accounted for in your will. If you sell your perfectly restored 1932 Ford, or acquire one, this should be reflected in your will.
LOSING AN EXECUTOR: Your will should name an executor, also known as a personal representative, who will administer your estate when you’re gone. Suppose the executor you named moves to another state, or passes away, you will need to name a new executor. It’s always a good idea to name an alternative executor as well.
Should You Draft a New Will or Edit Your Current One (Codicil)?
There are two choices when you need to make changes to your will. One choice is to void the previous one and create a fresh one. The other is to add a codicil. Which one you choose can depend on a variety of factors, but the biggest concern is probably how major a life change you are facing.
A codicil is like an amendment that you add to the existing will. Perhaps if you just want to designate a beneficiary for your recently acquired vintage 1932 Ford, a codicil may suffice. However, if you marry or divorce, add children, or undergo any major life change, you should create a new will. Your wills attorney can help you decide which route is best, but sometimes it’s just as easy to create a new will as it is to add a codicil.
Whichever route you take, you will have to get two disinterested witnesses to attest to your signature and creation of the codicil or new will. They will have to sign and indicate their addresses, just as you will. Disinterested means they cannot be named anywhere in your will—they stand to inherit nothing.
Schedule a Free Consultation to Get Started
Just like getting an annual physical, it’s best practice to undergo an annual review of your last will and testament, using an experienced estate planning attorney as a springboard for taking the best path forward. You want to be sure to account for any changes in your life.
We serve those in Tonawanda, New York, and the surrounding areas. Reach out to us for all your estate planning needs, including review and revision of your existing will. Your first consultation is free.