Wills are designed to be ironclad documents that set forth how you want assets dispersed to loved ones. They take the guesswork — or, in some sad cases, the arguments — out of a critical moment in this very emotional process. But they’re not ironclad at all. In fact, there are several instances in which you should go back and update this document so that it doesn’t end up creating the very end-of-life problems you’re trying to avoid.
If you get married after executing a will, you’ll need to add your new spouse as a beneficiary. Most states allow a spouse to receive their portion of an estate, even if a will is not in place. But securing that benefit can be a lengthy and difficult process. Obviously, your will might also be changed if you get a divorce, since your spouse would typically no longer be a beneficiary. Spouses are also generally named as guardians for minor children and estate executors in wills, so those designations may also need to be updated when a marriage ends.
Work directly with a professional estate planner when crafting this document, since they will have the most up-to-date information on your will’s tax implications. But be aware that these laws change, and sometimes your final document has to be updated in order to remain in the appropriate legal standing. A legal representative should make periodic reviews of your will, with an eye toward updating things like estate-tax issues.
If you endure an economic downturn, it may be necessary to pay out less to your beneficiaries to make sure that the estate’s other obligations are still met in your absence. On the other hand, if you experience a notable financial uptick, you may want to increase the benefit for those you leave behind — or maybe even add a new beneficiary.
Adding a ‘P.S.’
If you’re only adding a small change after the will has been completed, you may choose to make what’s called a codicil — basically a legal “P.S.” to your will. An extra page is written, signed and witnessed, just as your original will was, then attached. After death, both documents are to be read and followed. More important chances should involve an entirely new will.