Make sure your will reflects your current wishes and situation.
Experience teaches us that the only constant in life is change. But we don't always keep up with the important tasks -- such as updating wills and other important legal documents -- that should accompany big changes in our lives. Your will should always be tailored to your current family and financial situation, not the one you faced five years ago or maybe even just last year.
Here are some events that should nudge you toward making a new will and reviewing beneficiary designations you've made for insurance policies, bank accounts, and retirement accounts.
There are two ways to modify a will. One is to add a "codicil" to it. A codicil is a sort of legal "P.S." to the will, revoking part of it or adding a provision, such as a new gift of an item of property. Simple codicils made sense in the era of typewriters, when creating a brand-new will was a hassle, but today they are normally a poor idea. Codicils can create confusion -- sometimes even conflict -- and they must be dated, signed, and witnessed just like a will.
It's usually just as easy to make a new will. In it, you revoke your old one by including a simple statement like this: "I revoke all wills and codicils that I have previously made." It's also a good idea to gather all copies of your old will and destroy them.
Don't forget that much of your property will probably pass outside the terms of your will. For example, individual retirement accounts, joint or payable-on-death bank accounts, stocks registered with a transfer-on-death form, and life insurance proceeds go directly to the beneficiaries you've named. Your will has no effect on them. If you've changed your mind about who you want to inherit these kinds of property, you'll need to change the documents on which you named the beneficiary.
If you have a living trust and want to change its terms, you can add an amendment to the original document. You may then need to transfer property in or out of the trustee's name. Unlike a will, you do not usually revoke a trust and start over if you want to make a change.
Remember to review your entire estate plan periodically to see if there are any changes you want to make. Once a year would not be too often.
Cona Elder Law is a full service law firm based in Melville, LI. Our firm concentrates in the areas of elder law, estate planning, estate administration and litigation, special needs planning and health care facility representation. We are proud to have been recognized for our innovative strategies, creative techniques and unparalleled negotiating skills unendingly driven toward our paramount objective - satisfying the needs of our clients.
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