The information in this column is not intended as legal advice but to provide a general understanding of the law. Any readers with a legal problem, including those whose questions are addressed here, should consult an attorney for advice on their particular circumstance.
A will is never final until it takes effect. Sometimes people make their wills and set them aside, believing that their estate planning is done. And that’s a mistake.
As time passes, many changes can occur in your personal and financial circumstances or in those of your beneficiaries. Laws also change. Unless your will is modified to reflect these changes, you may enjoy a false sense of security. The plans that you made may not unfold as intended.
Your will should be reviewed periodically and the appropriate adjustments made. Consider reviewing your will and estate plan in any of the following circumstances.
• Events that automatically revoke a will: In most states, certain actions on your part automatically revoke your will. The specific actions vary from state to state. Examples may include marriage and the birth or adoption of a child. Other actions, such as divorce, can cause property left to a former spouse to pass as though your former spouse predeceased you, which may or may not be what you intended. With every major life change, you should review your will and consult your local attorney to see if a new will or other changes are required.
• Marriage, divorce or death of a spouse: Marriage brings about legal relationships that can revoke or conflict with the terms of a will made prior to the marriage. The end of a marriage requires a fresh look at your will and, most likely, will lead you to designate different beneficiaries.
• Birth or adoption of a child: Although some states may automatically revoke your will at the birth or adoption of a child, others may have laws that offer safeguards for children born after your will was made. You’ll want to make sure that your will reflects your wishes for how your property is distributed among your offspring. On the subject of offspring; you may also want to revise your will when the grandchildren come along.
• Changed status of a beneficiary: Children grow up and get married (or divorced). A relative may become sick or disabled or may die. Events in the lives of your loved ones can have an impact on what you want to leave your beneficiaries and how you leave it.
• Moving out of state: Laws concerning wills can differ from state to state. Plan to take a look at your will if you will be moving out of state. Also, whenever you acquire property in another state, have your attorney review your will to make sure it will be effective in that state.
• Changes in your assets or asset value: Over the years, your wealth is likely to increase. You may have acquired assets (i.e., an investment portfolio, a business, valuable collectibles) that you did not have when you made your will. You may have sold an asset for which you named a beneficiary when you originally made your will. In other words, your personal financial picture is constantly changing, and your will should be updated accordingly.
• Retirement: Major changes in your life and your financial holdings occur at retirement. You may receive a lump sum distribution from a company retirement plan, sell the family home and move to a smaller residence. Put will review on your retirement planning checklist.
• Changed tax laws: Income, inheritance, estate, gift and generation skipping tax rules are revamped regularly. Failure to make the appropriate adjustments to your will may mean missing tax-saving opportunities.
Hiring an attorney to write your will can help you ensure that the technical formalities of Texas law are followed and that your gifts are clear and easily understood. Spending a few dollars now will save your family and loved ones from spending more later. Not to mention the confusion and grief that will be avoided.
Sam A. Moak is an attorney with the Huntsville law firm of Moak & Moak, P.C. He is licensed to practice in all fields of law by the Supreme Court of Texas, is a Member of the State Bar College, and is a member of the Real Estate, Probate and Trust Law Section of the State Bar of Texas. www.moakandmoak.com.