An annual story could be written by filling in the blanks on the sentence below:
Famous person (insert name here) unexpectedly passed away of (cause of death), leaving behind (#) children, their spouse (spouses name), and an estate worth an estimated (insert some number of millions of dollars). They died without a will.
The list of celebrities who died without a will is long and continues to grow every year. And even some, who initially make a will, can fail to update their documents. It’s best to make sure you don’t leave to chance what happens to your assets if you pass away.
Creating a will is a critical first step, but it’s not a one-time event. Similar to purchasing a life insurance policy, it’s a piece of your financial life that should be revisited regularly to ensure it is up to date. Here are some examples of life events that should have you calling your estate planning attorney for an update.
Here are some events and times that you need to update your will:
Birth of a child
For many people, the birth of a child is the impetus to first put together a will. It’s a critical step to protecting your child, especially when they are minors and you must name a guardian for them. The will should be updated for each new child, as you may have different wishes on guardianship as your life changes. For example, let’s say a couple who wrote their will after their first two children, and then never updated it again for 20 years after they had two more children. If anything happened to the couple, their youngest two children would not get anything from their estate and their assets would be split between the two oldest children.
Some states will allow you to write a will to leave your assets to all of your children, in equal parts, and thus it would update automatically upon the birth of additional children, but consult an estate planning attorney to see if that’s possible where you live.
Marriage or divorce
When you get married, it’s likely a major change in who you’re sharing your financial life with. Many young people who have gotten a will may have split their property amongst siblings or other family members, but now have a spouse that should be included. Similarly, if you and your spouse are divorcing, you should each create new wills that dictate your wishes as a single person.
State laws vary widely, so if you move to a new state, it’s time to update your will. A will may be valid in one state, but have provisions that are invalid in another, leaving the fate of your wishes to a judge in your new state. This is especially key if you move to a state that has an inheritance or estate tax. While the federal estate and gift tax exemption is now at $11.4 million per individual, many states have much lower limits and thus the tax impacts many more people. Updating your will, and possibly using trusts or other estate planning techniques, is critical to help you want to pass along as much of your estate as possible to your family.
A large cash infusion
Maybe you sold your business or inherited a large sum of money yourself. Perhaps the company you work for went public, giving you more money in one year than you’d earned in the previous decade. If you have an event that dramatically increases your net worth, it’s time to update your will. You may have new gifts you want to specify or charitable giving you want to put in writing.
And update your will periodically
A will is a document you should regularly review to ensure it matches your current life. It’s so easy to have many little changes occur, and not realize that what you wrote five years ago is wildly out of date. Set an annual calendar reminder to review your will. Pull it out, read it over, and make sure everything in it still makes sense. If it does, tuck it back away until next year. Having a periodic review can help you avoid missing significant life changes.
If you don’t yet have a will, you have many options to create one. As an added feature for those who have put life insurance protection into place with a Haven Term policy issued by MassMutual, the Haven Life Plus rider, included with the Haven Term policy, offers access to a digital will for policyholders and their partners at no cost from Trust & Will. With the service, you can create your will in minutes, store online and update anytime.
Ryan Frailich, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, runs Deliberate Finances, a fee-only financial planning firm which specializes in helping young couples and educators plan for their financial lives. When not working, Ryan is exploring New Orleans, running with his dog Dodger, or building block towers with his young son. Opinions are his own. This article is sponsored by Haven Life Insurance Agency.
Haven Life Insurance Agency does not provide, nor is the information here written or intended as, specific tax or legal advice. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel.
Haven Life Plus (Plus) is the marketing name for the Plus rider which is included as part of the Haven Term policy. The rider is not available in every state and is subject to change at any time. Neither Haven Life nor MassMutual are responsible for the provision of the benefits and services made accessible under the Plus Rider, which are provided by third party vendors (partners).