Your last will and testament is an important part of your estate plan. Proactive estate planning allows you to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your legacy both throughout your lifetime and once you are gone. More specifically, your will lets you name beneficiaries to your assets, a guardian to your minor children, and a personal representative to oversee your estate after you pass away.
If you have not already written and validated a will, you should do so as soon as possible, no matter your age or health. When someone passes away without a will, their estate is subject to Texas’s intestacy laws. This means their assets will be proportionately distributed amongst immediate surviving relatives, and the decedent will have no say in who receives what.
If you do have a valid will in place, your work is not necessarily done. You will likely need to modify your will as you grow older and your circumstances change. In this blog, we will review life events that might warrant adjustments to your estate planning documents, including your will.
Birth or Adoption of a Child or Grandchild
The addition of a new member to your family is a joyous occasion, and you will likely wish to provide for your child or grandchild once you are gone. This can be accomplished by incorporating them into your will and other estate planning documents. In addition to planning an inheritance, you may need to designate a guardian to care for the child should you and your spouse pass away or become unable to do so.
Marriage or Divorce
When you choose to share a life with someone and form a legal union, you may also decide to coordinate estate plans and leave additional assets to your new spouse. Sharing assets will also likely represent a significant change in financial circumstances, and you will need to account for any jointly owned property in your will.
Should you and your spouse ever divorce, you will need to take prompt action to modify your estate plan accordingly. The ownership of some assets may still be ambiguous until a divorce settlement has been reached, but there are still immediate steps you can take to insulate your estate and protect your assets.
Moving to a New State
Each state has its own set of laws governing estate plans. What might constitute a valid will in Texas will not necessarily be enforceable elsewhere, especially if a provision of your document inadvertently violates some state-specific regulation. Should you move to Texas from somewhere else, you should seek professional assistance and meticulously review the language of your estate plan. You may need to establish a new will and tweak certain elements of your estate plan.
A Significant Change in Financial Circumstances
Your financial situation will likely fluctuate throughout your life. You might get a lucrative new job, receive a generous inheritance, obtain valuable assets, or benefit from smart investments. Conversely, you might lose a critical source of income or experience other financial difficulties. Your will should reflect your current holdings and financial circumstances. When those circumstances substantially shift, you should review and make any necessary adjustments to your will. You will want to optimize all available assets and ensure they are covered by one or more elements of your estate plan.
A Change in Circumstances Involving a Beneficiary or Personal Representative
In your will, you will most likely name numerous beneficiaries to your assets. You will also elect a personal representative to oversee the probate process once you pass away. Your relationships with beneficiaries and your personal representative will not necessarily remain static. People come and go from our lives, and your will should reflect these natural changes. If one of your beneficiaries passes away, you should consider who instead should receive the assets you intended for them. If your personal representative passes away, you will need to select a replacement. The same is true if your beneficiaries or personal representatives leave your life for one reason or another. Whether there is a falling out or you simply change your mind, you should update your will to include new beneficiaries and/or a different personal representative.
A Change in Circumstances Involving Your Health
As you grow older, you may inevitably experience health complications. You can only create a will or make changes to an existing estate planning document if you are of sound mind. In other words, once your health begins to deteriorate, you may only have a limited window to make any final changes to your will. The document will not be considered valid and enforceable if it is determined that you enacted changes when you were mentally incapable of doing so. If you are diagnosed with a serious condition that could affect your mental faculties, it may be wise to immediately review your will and make any necessary changes before doing so becomes impossible.
One or More of Your Witnesses Pass Away
If you produce a typewritten will in Texas, you will need two witnesses over the age of 14 to sign the document when you do. If there is a challenge to the will’s legitimacy after you pass away, these witnesses may be called upon to verify that you created the document and were of sound mind when you validated it. If one or more of your witnesses pass away before you do, it may be wise to validate a new version of the will with replacement witnesses. This decreases the odds that a witness will be unavailable once you are gone. Alternatively, you can avoid this potential issue by involving a notary and adding a self-proving affidavit to your will.
Update Your Will Every Few Years
Even if you believe no life events have occurred, you should still plan to review and adjust your estate plan every five years or so. Your circumstances will naturally evolve, and you may be surprised by what you wish to change upon reviewing your will.
We Can Help You Create or Modify Your Estate Plan
Our estate planning attorney at J. Roland Jeter, P.C. is committed to helping you protect yourself and your family. We have over 40 years of legal experience serving our Texas communities and can provide you with the knowledgeable guidance you need when creating and updating your estate plan.
If you need to update your will, schedule a consultation by contacting us online or calling (972) 330-4050.