Reviewing and Updating Your Will
June 15, 2023
According to a 2021 Gallup poll, only 46% of American adults have a will. You may not think you need one if you are relatively young and healthy, but if you want to ensure that your assets go to your chosen beneficiaries should you die unexpectedly, writing a will can give you peace of mind.
While planning your estate, you might think you’ve completed the most difficult step once you create a will. However, the time may come when you want to update your will in response to certain life changes. An estate planning attorney can help you avoid possible problems down the line by reviewing and updating your will.
At Davidson Estate Law in Oakland, California, our team is ready to help you move forward. As an experienced estate planning attorney, Eric E. Davidson can assist you with updating your existing will. Set up a consultation with us today.
When to Update Your Will
Ideally, you and your attorney will review your will on an annual basis. This space of time between meetings will allow you to account for any life events, such as marriage or the birth of a child, and update your will accordingly. Your attorney should also be able to make you aware of any changes in the tax laws passed during the year that will affect your estate plan and suggest updates to your will that reflect this.
Marrying or Divorcing
It is a good idea to have an attorney help you review and update your will if you get married, remarried, or divorced. California is a community property state, so your surviving spouse is entitled to one-half of your community property even if you don’t add them to your will; however, you can provide more for your surviving spouse should you include them.
A divorce will ensure that your ex-spouse does not receive any community property, so you should name a new beneficiary in your will.
Gaining or Losing Assets to Be Inherited
If you lose assets, you should update your will to reflect the loss of these assets so that your heirs can avoid ademption or abatement. Ademption occurs when an inheritance named in a will no longer exists, and so the beneficiary receives nothing; abatement occurs when a beneficiary receives less than the amount named in a will.
If you gain an asset, it is important to make sure that your will states how you want that asset to be distributed after you pass away. If you do not name beneficiaries, your heirs could find themselves fighting lengthy court battles over it.
Adding or Losing Children or Grandchildren
When you have a new child or grandchild, it is important to include them in your will. If you die without adding a new child or grandchild to your will, that child or grandchild may be entitled to a share of your estate. However, you will want to be sure that they receive the amount that you intend to give them without the court—or others who could contest the will down the line—making that decision for you.
If a child or grandchild dies, you will want to reallocate the assets that would have gone to them to avoid later disagreements between your heirs.
Changing Guardians, Witnesses, Beneficiaries, or Executors
Your estate planning lawyer can help you change your minor children’s legal guardian if that guardian moves away, dies, or becomes incapacitated. Witnesses are responsible for certifying the validity of your will, so if a witness is unable to fulfill this role, you should get new witnesses and create a new will. If your beneficiaries die or you change your mind about any bequests, you should update your will to reflect this. Finally, if your current executor dies or cannot fulfill the demands of the role after you die—namely, making sure your estate is divided according to your will—you should make a new will and name a new executor.
Making a Change vs. Drafting a New Will
How can you change your will? Should you change your will or draft an entirely new will? To change a will, you must add a codicil, which includes the change in a postscript. However, multiple and/or complicated changes to a will may create problems in interpretation down the line.
In most cases, it is better to simply draft a new will. Since you need witnesses whether you are creating a codicil or drafting a new will, drafting a new will isn’t much extra work. You and your attorney can make the changes to your existing will and obtain new witnesses to watch you sign it.
Work With a Skilled Estate Planning Attorney
A skilled estate planning attorney will aim to meet your estate planning objectives. They can help you write or draft documents, evaluate your options, and keep you up-to-date on existing laws. An attorney can bring you peace of mind, working to ensure that your wishes are legally binding and that your family’s future is secure.
If you live anywhere in Oakland as well as San Francisco and the Bay Area (including Alameda, Berkeley, El Cerrito, and Walnut Creek), our attorney is here to help. At Davidson Estate Law, Eric E. Davidson is dedicated to helping his clients make the best estate-planning decisions for their families. Contact us today to discuss your estate planning goals.