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How and When to Update Your Last Will and Testament

For many, writing a last will and testament is a onetime task. The document is written, witnessed, and then stored away with your lawyer or in a safe deposit box. However, estate planners recommend reviewing and updating your will on an annual basis. Otherwise, this can potentially lead to problems for your family after your death and can even lead to claims on your estate that you might not agree with. As your life and financial circumstances change, it’s important that your will changes as well.

Creating or Updating a Will

There are three ways to make a will: on your own, online, or with the help of a lawyer or estate planner. Unless you are familiar with legal matters, writing or updating your will by yourself is probably not the best idea. For basic situations, or if you want to create a quick draft before you can visit a lawyer, legal websites such as LegalZoom and Nolo can offer you guidance on drafting a will for a onetime fee.

In most situations, though, it is best to visit a lawyer who is knowledgeable about estate law in your area. This is the best way to save your heirs confusion or arguments later on. This is especially true if you have a number of assets, your estate is large, or there is a complex familial situation. The American College of Trust and Estate Counsel offers a listing of financial planning specialists who can provide legal advice and write your will for you.

Do I Need to Update My Will?

While it is a good idea to review your last will and testament every year, most people don’t. Instead, they either don’t update it at all, or they wait until there is a significant change. At a minimum, you should review your will whenever one of these events takes place:

  • You retire. This could significantly change your financial situation. Similarly, when you turn 70.5, the IRS generally requires you to make annual withdrawals from your individual retirement account (traditional IRA) and other retirement plans.
  • Major relationships change, such as friends passing away or new grandchildren being born. Consider your executor, trustees, and heirs regularly to ensure everyone is included who should be and that no one needs to be removed from the list.
  • Your financial situation changes dramatically. If you buy or sell a significant asset or change a life insurance policy, you should review your will.
  • You move to another state. State laws vary, so an attorney who is familiar with local laws should review your will.

How to Make Changes

There are two ways to make changes to a last will and testament: filing a codicil or writing a new will. A codicil is an addendum and works well for minor changes. This can be an inexpensive option if the changes are limited in scope. In other cases, however, you will need to revoke your old will and make a new one. This limits the possibility of confusion and best ensures your wishes are followed properly. Either way, you need to sign off on the change and it needs to be witnessed by two others in most states.

When it comes to matters of aging, it’s very important to be prepared. While no one likes to think about death, planning ahead by making a last will and testament and keeping it up-to-date is the best way to protect your loved ones in the future.

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