Life Series V: Wills Need to be Revisited as Life Changes
Throughout their 20 years of marriage, Harry and Sally spent much of their time taking care of each other and then their three children as they arrived. But during the last two years, they also had to devote energy to caring for Harry’s father who eventually died from Alzheimer’s disease, and then administering the estate he left to the family.
Harry’s father hadn’t touched his will in 10 years -- even after Harry’s mother died -- so much of the document was outdated. Simple changes such as the addition of Harry and Sally’s third child weren’t made in the will, along with adjustments to the situation with Harry’s sister, who had gone through a divorce.
The outdated will caused confusion among Harry’s siblings and added a burden to Harry’s job as Personal Representative. Further, the family experienced significant legal expenses in Probate Court as some of the instructions weren’t clear. As they were winding down the estate, Harry vowed that he would make sure his own will was up to date to prevent this from happening to his own family.
When Harry contacted their estate planning attorney to discuss his will, he was very pleased to discover that the reviews of both his and Sally’s estate plan were free. Their attorney recommended that they get the reviews done about every five years -- the usual amount of time where families see milestones that may trigger changes to a will.
As one would expect, the changes to wills usually reflect the early, mid and later stages of life. In the early stages, the considerations center on setting up guardianship for minor children. Maybe the brother who was initially chosen as guardian has divorced, or has fallen into difficult financial times. Or, the sister and brother-in-law who were ideal guardians moved to California, so the question of children having to move out of state becomes a consideration.
In the mid stages of life, the considerations pivot from guardianship to questions involving adult children as heirs and estates that are more substantial in value. For adult children, the changes may involve divorce, re-marriage, birth of a child, significant financial change, or severe cognitive impairment or disability from an accident or illness.
In the later stages, the considerations often involve situations where the adult children have become parents themselves, with older children who may be attending college or getting married.
Harry's and Sally's children are still minors, so changes weren’t yet necessary. The couple briefly discussed the day when their children will be appointed as personal representative and power of attorney. For now, they have the peace of mind that their estate plan is in good shape and their children will be taken care of if the unthinkable happens.