Many people have difficulty managing money in life and don't give much thought to what will happen to their assets when dead. But obviously, you don't want to wait until it's too late to make a will.
A last will and testament is simply an expression of your final wishes, legally preserved to protect your beneficiaries. After you make a will, you will still need to update it whenever circumstances in your life change. Here are ten situations that likely require will revision, plus some basic estate law vocabulary to get you thinking long-term:
What Is Intestacy?
A person who dies intestate has left no last will and testament, yet their assets and property -- their estate -- is more valuable than their enforceable debts. In other words, intestacy is the condition of an estate with a surplus and no designated beneficiaries.
States all have provisions for intestate succession. If you die without a will, the distribution of your estate is determined by statute. But intestacy succession generally only covers spouses and blood relations. If your family is modern, or postmodern, and there are step-relatives involved or unconventional arrangements of any kind, intestacy will not provide for such beneficiaries.
Life Changes That Should Prompt a Will Revision
Not every life change demands a revision, but there are occasions when you should seriously consider whether your will really still reflects your wishes.
1. Marriage -- When you commit to marriage, make sure your heart's attachments are recorded. Different states have different provisions for spouses who die intestate. But the safe bet is to revise your will, specifying what precisely you'd like to pass on.
2. Separation -- When you officially separate from a spouse, revise your will. This ensures your ex is not the accidental beneficiary of your unfortunate demise should anything happen to you during the divorce process.
3. Divorce -- If you took care of it during separation, then you may not need to make any changes once divorced. However, it is probably still worth reviewing your will with an estate attorney so that you are not designating distribution of property that already went to your spouse in the divorce. Your will must reflect the reality of your current situation.
4. Birth of Children/Additional Beneficiaries -- New family members require a revised will reflecting their existence. If you adopt a child, or a step-child, or find yourself in a situation with new beneficiaries to add, promptly adjust your will.
5. Grandchildren -- Just as above, the addition of grandchildren to your life will likely mean a will revision. If you have something specific in mind for a particular grandchild, let this be reflected.
6. Death of Beneficiaries -- If you find yourself in a tragic situation of having outlived your spouse or children, it is time for a will revision. You need to designate a different beneficiary or change the distribution of your estate.
7. Change in Relationship With Beneficiaries -- Bad things happen to good families and sometimes nice people fight. If a once-favorite niece now seems an unworthy beneficiary, or there are any other serious changes in your relationships, it's time for a revision.
8. Beneficiaries' Changed Relationships -- What happens if your children get divorced or their family situations change? That may be an occasion to review your will, just so you do not, through neglect, leave the summer house on to your now ex-son-in-law.
9. Change in Financial Circumstances -- Just like changed relationships, changes in your financial situation will impact your will.
10. Gain or Loss of Assets -- Similar to the above, any assets or property you gain or lose in life go to what there is to distribute after your death.
In addition to these ten circumstances, you should also consider the fact that your wishes may simply change. Be sure to revisit your will periodically to ensure that everything is up to date. Always make sure your will reflects your reality and relationships.