Is it Time to Update Your Will? Check the "Who, What, When, Where and How"
"How often do I need to review (or update) my Will?" There is no magic answer to that question; instead generally speaking it is good to review your estate planning documents whenever life changes occur. These would include marriage and divorce, having or adopting a child, death in the family, moving, and coming into an inheritance, as just a few examples.
Sometimes a client will ask this question while cringing at a perceived self-serving response from the attorney, requiring the client to come back to the attorney repeatedly, and thus incurring more cost. Regular reviews with your attorney are helpful like "checkups" to ensure you still have a "healthy" estate plan that meets your needs. Those needs change over time, and the law is constantly evolving as well. In light of these constantly changing dynamics, it would be unrealistic to view estate planning as a "one and done" process.
To help with this question, consider the "Who, What, When, Where, and How" of your Will.
- Review the "Who" of your Will - Who have you named as your heirs, your executors, guardian of your minor children, trustees if you have a Trust? Would you want to change any of these designations? Are they still ready, willing, and able to serve such a role? If you have or wish to specify a charitable, long term gift in your Will, have you verified with the charity their requirements for designating and making them aware of the gift?
- Review the "What" of your Will - do you have any assets that require special bequest treatment, and is that covered in your Will? How has the value of your financial estate and asset make-up changed since your estate plan was written? Is now the time to consider adding a Trust to your estate plan (if you are asking yourself this question, that alone is likely reason enough to call your attorney for a professional opinion)? For personal property, does your Will provide you the option of preparing a "letter of direction" to designate certain items, and have you done so?
- Review the "When" of your Will - How long has it been since your Will was signed? Were your grown up kids mere toddlers at the time? Was it before your marriage or divorce? If you have minor children, does your Will provide a trust for your children, and at what age would the trust protections terminate or lapse?
- Review the "Where" of your Will - Have you moved to another State since you signed it? State probate laws can vary somewhat from State to State. If you have moved or anticipate moving soon, check with an attorney in your new State.
- Review the "How" of your Will - This one goes beyond the document itself. Imagine that you have in fact died. Do your loved ones know how to carry out your wishes? How can you help make that process easier for them, whether in your written Will itself, or in separate instructions?
Rather than try to apply a "one size fits all" time frame for attorney review, you can consider the "who, what, when, where, and how" of your Will on your own first, to help determine whether now is the time to go back in and meet with your attorney.