Estate documents such as a last will or revocable trust are living documents. Although the purpose of a last will or revocable trust is to provide for what happens to your estate after you die, as you encounter changes during life your estate documents should be amended to keep up with these changes. Don’t make the mistake of storing away your will or trust and forgetting about it. Be sure that the details of your will or trust reflects the changes in your life.
Emotion often triggers changes to estate documents such as anger at one of your children prompting the removal of him/her as a beneficiary. It is usually best to wait some time before making changes to allow emotions to settle. There are many other non-emotion based reasons to make changes to your estate documents such as:
- Marriage - if you were single when you prepared your estate plan and now wish to add your new spouse.
- Divorce - you have divorced and need to remove your former spouse entirely.
- Death of your spouse - you left a substantial portion of individually owned property to your deceased spouse and need to revise the beneficiaries.
- Death of a child - you left a share of your estate to a now-deceased child and need to remove him/her as a beneficiary.
- Increase or decrease in wealth - you may have acquired more assets over time or lost substantial savings due to a failed economy.
- Contributions - you may have a passion for specific causes and wish to provide a charitable donation after your death.
- Relocation - you have moved to another state with different laws governing wills or trusts.
There are two primary ways to change estate plan documents.
- New Documents - you create entirely new estate documents that replace your former documents because of the substantial changes in your life.
- Changes to existing documents - you may have simple changes, ie update an address of a beneficiary, add or remove a beneficiary who has died, add a charitable bequest, change of trustee or personal representative, and many other reasons. This is typically done by a separate document that will be added to your existing documents. For last wills, such changes are done with a codicil while for revocable trusts they are done by amendment.
Changes to your estate plan documents should be made during a time of complete competency. If your competency is questionable, such as during the early stages of Alzheimer's, the validity of such changes could be challenged. If such a challenge is successful, any codicils, amendments or changes to your estate documents could be declared invalid by a court which would then consider only documents prepared prior to the period of your mental incapacity. While it may seem easy to change a couple of lines of text to your will, don't attempt to do it yourself. Ask your estate planning attorney to make your changes.