For reasons that are not entirely clear, the number of Americans making wills is dropping. Less than a third of Americans currently have a valid will, according to statistics.
Even those that have a will may not have their affairs set in order. There are certain circumstances under which it is necessary to change your will, or at least advisable to do so.
If it’s been a while since you made a will or trust, you should inform yourself about when it might be a good idea to make changes to it.
Read on to find out how to change a will or trust.
Wills & Trusts: What’s the Difference?
Wills and trusts are both estate planning tools. You can use either a will or a trust to distribute your assets, or you can use both.
The main difference between the two is that a will does not take effect until you die, while a trust takes effect as soon as you make it.
When Might I Have To Change My Will or Trust?
Making a will is an important and commendable step in one’s life. However, it is unfortunately only half the battle. Most people will have to alter wills or trusts several times in their lives.
The following are some circumstances in which you should consider changing your will.
Changes in Your Family Situation
If you’re arranging the distribution of your assets, chances are you’re leaving the majority of your estate, if not all of it, to members of your immediate family. Therefore, it makes sense to change your will or trust when the structure of your family changes.
This might come about in the case of a new birth or an untimely death. However, most often, it relates to the spousal relationship.
In many states, a marriage or divorce will immediately render a previous will void. Even in those states where it doesn’t, you should make a new will anyway.
It is especially important to make a new will if you remarry after getting divorced.
Death of Beneficiaries
If someone you name in your will or trust dies before you, it is usually a good idea to change the document.
It should be noted that the death of a beneficiary will not necessarily make a will invalid. The rules vary from state to state, but in many cases the gift will simply pass to the heirs of the deceased person.
A person’s heir or heirs will usually be their wife, their children, their parents, or their siblings.
Changes in Your Assets
Imagine you won the state lottery tomorrow. Whatever your will says would probably be largely irrelevant, as it wouldn’t account for the fresh pile of cash now sitting in your bank account.
This is obviously an extreme example. However, assets almost always change over the years.
Whether you purchase new property, start making more money at work, lose money in an investment, or just spend a percentage of your savings, the amount of assets you have is probably changing all the time.
Therefore, you should check your will or trust every few months to ensure that what you’re bequeathing is consistent with what you actually have.
Also, if you gain or lose a large quantity of assets, you should change your will or trust immediately.
Change in Location
If you make a will in one state and subsequently move to another, your will may not be valid in the latter state.
The rules on this vary from state to state. If you’re unsure about whether your will is valid, it’s always best to consult an attorney.
Changes to the Law
Various laws that are relevant to wills and trusts change quite frequently. These might rules in relation to tax, power of attorney, or long term care benefits. Advanced health directives are also relevant.
These laws are numerous and complex. If you’re not sure whether a legal change affects your estate plan, it’s always best to ask your lawyer.
How To Change a Will or Trust
There are a number of ways in which you can change an existing will or trust. The best method for you will depend on the extent of the changes you wish to make.
A New Will or Trust
If you want to make sweeping changes to your will or trust, or you haven’t changed it in a long time, you may be better off to just start from scratch.
This will invalidate any previous wills or trusts you may have made.
A codicil is similar to an addendum. Whereas an addendum merely adds to a will or trust, however, a codicil changes a pre-existing element of one.
These are used where there is only one change to be made, or a few minor changes. Codicils are quicker and easier to implement than brand new documents.
Once drawn up, a codicil is attached to your existing will or trust as a secondary document. Codicils must be witnessed and executed in the same fashion as the original will or trust.
A Personal Property Memorandum
This is similar to a codicil. It also takes the form of an additional document that is attached to your original will or trust and makes binding changes to it.
However, this method is only available to you if you included a personal property memorandum when you first wrote your will or trust. In this case, you can remove the existing memorandum and replace it with one that reflects your updated intentions.
A personal property memorandum is used by those who wish to leave specific pieces of property to specific beneficiaries, rather than dividing their estate up equally.
For instance, if you wish to leave your car to one of your children and your art collection to another, you would specify this in your personal property memorandum.
What Happens If I Die Without Making a Will?
Where someone does not have a will when they die, they are said to have died intestate. The way in which your assets are distributed will depend on your family situation and the laws in your state.
Generally, your estate will be divided up among your heirs, with priority given to your spouse and children, followed by your parents and siblings.
If no suitable heir can be found, the ultimate beneficiary is usually the state.
Making Sure Your Family Are Looked After
Nobody likes to think about life after their own passing. However, this is no excuse for not having arrangements made in relation to your affairs, especially if you have a family that will need to be looked after when you’re gone.
For those that already have one, knowing how to change a will or trust is hugely important. You need to be able to make adjustments if some unexpected occurrence should change your state of affairs.
If you’d like to make a will, or have us review or make a change to an existing one, contact us today.