One of the things least thought of but most needed is to update your will. If it’s been awhile since a rewrite of this incredibly important document, might be time to dust it off and make some changes!
While cleaning some files out of our filing cabinet (something I’m prone to do at the beginning of every year), I ran across a file folder that has a copy of our will in it. We have the official copy in a safe and a safety deposit box, with this one as a quick reference copy. After reading through it once, it was glaringly obvious that it was time to take another crack at what would happen if my wife and I both bought the farm early. Now is definitely the time to update your will…
In the version of our will I found not one, not two, but countless issues that needed updating. For example:
- We had just two kids listed, not three. Which suggests that this version of the will was done before our last child was born — ten years ago.
- One of the family members listed that was earmarked for a piece of the estate has since passed away. I’m not even sure what happens in the case of a deceased beneficiary…
- The people we had listed as guardians of our children are not our first choice to raise them today. That might’ve been awkward…
- Our assets were significantly less ten years ago than they are today which changes how we’d like those assets distributed.
All in all, it was blatantly apparent that now is the time to rewrite our will.
How often should you update your will?
There is no hard and fast rule about when you should be revisiting your will and other estate documents. However, if you have significant changes in various aspects of your life, you should be updating your guiding documents with those changes. Here are some examples of life events that would warrant updates:
Having another child – Your offspring and their potential guardians will be the ones regretting it if you fail to update your guiding document. Not doing so puts them in jeopardy of being part of a legal battle for guardianship and a whole mess of family strife.
Change in relationships – If you and your spouse are splitting, or your chosen guardians are splitting, it’s probably time for a rewrite. Obviously, wills are written with the worst case scenario in mind, and a sincere hope that the worst never happens. That being said, the document has to reflect the reality of situations at present.
A major win or major financial blow – Oftentimes the will is written to direct remaining assets to various persons or organizations. If the financial situation changes dramatically, a different amount or percentage may need to be identified. Life is fluid and changing, just as your will should.
If you’re in poor health – If you or another loved one are in poor health, having a will define what happens should you become incapacitated or unable to make your own decisions is critical.
Being someone’s executor is NOT a privilege
Over the years I’ve been asked if I would be willing to be the executor of the estate of various friends of mine. It presupposes that: a) they’re going to die someday, and b) that I have the capacity to carry out their wishes as they’ve listed them on their last will and testament.
The challenge that lies within being asked to be an executor is it seems like someone is bestowing on you a certain privilege. That you, of all of their friends and family, are the most qualified person to distribute their estate.
In fact, being the executor of an estate is NOT a privilege. It’s a terribly complicated thing that almost always results in family dysfunction. An estate attorney friend of mine once told me that 98% of all estates create some level of family dysfunction.
While I’m a pretty organized person with an attention to detail, I’m not prepared to handle the emotional backlash that being an executor may bring. That is a service better left to legal professionals and trust departments, particularly if you have more than a handful of assets to distribute and any value to them whatsoever.
Where can I do this if I have limited assets?
The straight-up simplest way to get your will in order is to go through the services at LegalZoom.com. They have mastered the art of the upsell, so keep that in mind as you begin your search for the products you most need right now.
As an example, if you’re going to the site simply for a last will and testament, you’ll likely be offered the following items:
- Living Trust
- Living Will
- Power of Attorney
- Health Care Power of Attorney
- Pet Protection Agreement
- And the Estate Pack
If you’re just dipping your toe in the water, you’ll probably pay around $149 — click on any of the other offerings and your balance will easily double or triple.
Your other easy option is to contact a local attorney’s office or financial institution with a trust department that handles these kinds of requests for their clients. If working with a trust department, you’ll likely pay a bit more, but they’re in the business of doing executor work and know how to have the hard conversations. Trust me, it’s money well spent in the long run.
If it’s been any longer than a year or two since you’ve revisited your estate plans (at the very least your last will and testament and power of attorney), consider pulling it from the files and doing a rework. While not the most popular of free time activities, it absolutely deserves your attention for the benefit and ease of your family and friends (hopefully) decades from now.