The book of Koheles (Ecclesiastes) says there is a certain time for everything under the sun. A time to review your Will is when your family changes, health changes, or financial circumstances become prosperous. The family changes that call for reviewing your will include marriage or divorce, birth of a child, death of a loved one.
Persons who become divorced usually feel urgency about changing their Wills, for obvious reasons. However, they have overlooked changing named beneficiaries in accounts and insurance policies. In a recent Supreme Court case, the Court held that a woman who had been divorced ten years before was the beneficiary of a federal employment life insurance policy because her ex-husband never changed the beneficiary designation to his new wife.
A widower came to me to change his Will which left everything to his wife who had passed away years before. One of the children was still a teenager. In the event the father dies, we came up with a Trustee to handle the teenager’s funds until he is old enough to handle them himself.
Changes in relationships can require changing a Will. In one of my cases parents had designated guardians of their children under an old Will. However, the parents had become too distant from the guardians to feel they could carry out that important responsibility. It was time to change the Will.
When a child is born after the execution of a Will (“after-born child”), and is not provided for in any way in that older Will, New York law applies a formula that can lead to an unusual result. In a famous case a parent wrote a Will leaving everything to one favorite child out of a total of five children when the Will was executed. Another child was born after the Will. A court found that the child inheriting under the Will and the after-born child each inherited fifty percent. The other four children received nothing.
Health changes are an opportunity to consider whether you need to update not only a Will, but a health care proxy, a living will, and a power of attorney. It is important to have reliable people in place when you need them because you cannot make decisions on your own. Also, they need guidance on what your desires are while you can explain it clearly. Depending on one’s age and financial circumstances, this may be time for Medicaid planning.
As people get older and live alone with one or more pets, they need to consider how the pet will be taken care of.
A final sign it is time to review the Will is when financial circumstances become prosperous. A multi-million dollar estate including life insurance and the value of a residence can lead to a New York estate tax amount that would have been reduced with advance planning. As the saying goes, make hay while the sun shines.#