Not everyone has an estate plan, and those who have taken the time to create their own may not have reviewed their testamentary documents in some time. Contrary to what some Floridians may believe, an estate plan is a fluid set of legal tools that can change and be changed as the life and needs of the testator change.
Consider, for example, a will that a testator wrote more than 20 years ago. While that document may still meet the requirements of a valid and legally enforceable will, it may contain provisions and beneficiaries who are no longer part of the testator’s life.
This post will address some of the most common ways that estate planning documents become outdated and need updating based on alterations in family law relationship, but it does not provide any legal advice. All questions about family law and estate planning matters should be directed to knowledgeable local attorneys.
Testator marries or divorces
Through their wills and other estate planning tools, many testators leave their spouses the bulk of their wealth and assets. The transfer of assets between married people is often facilitated by their joint ownership of items of property, and many individuals want their spouses to enjoy the fruits of their work even after the testators have passed away. However, if a will names a person’s ex-spouse, it should be updated to avoid the undesired transfer of property to a non-family member after the testator’s death.
Similarly, if an individual creates an estate plan before they are married, they may wish to go in and update it to reflect their new spouse after their relationship is formalized. The failure to do so can create confusion and complicate the probate process for those who are tasked with administering it.
Testator has a child or adopts a child
Just as individuals can decide to join or leave marriages, they can also choose to add children to their families. The failure to add a child to a will can result in serious questions about the testator’s intentions during probate. While it may be tempting to assume that a later-born child should be included equally in the distribution of a testator’s will, individuals do have the right to disown heirs from collecting from their estate’s and the intentions of the testator should be derived from the operating testamentary documents. When a child is born or adopted, it is a good time to update an estate plan.
Testator’s wealth changes
Not all estate plans are complex, and many do not have to be convoluted in order to accomplish their important purposes. A simple estate plan can save a person and their heirs time and money by clearly establishing the scope of property that may be distributed to family members and other beneficiaries.
When, though, a testator goes through a major change in financial power, such as due to the inheritance of significant property themselves or the fruits of a lucrative new career, they may wish to include individuals in their estate plans who were not included before. They may wish to redistribute how assets are shared with their children and other heirs, and they may wish to include different beneficiaries, such as charities, in their plans. A change in one’s financial power can suggest a need to change one’s estate plan.
This post does not comprehensively discuss all topics that may cause a testator to need to change their estate plan. It does, however, introduce several topics related to this important estate planning consideration. Help from a local estate planning attorney can help readers work through their estate planning questions and needs.