Time to revisit your will


By Ronald Ward, Jr., LIVING WELL Magazine

Have you reviewed your will within the last three to five years? Most adults are familiar with the concept of the last will and testament. It is, of course, the device that transfers your assets to someone of your choosing upon your death. Generally speaking, people are reluctant to spend much time thinking about their last wishes. For that reason, many people will not regularly review their wills after they have executed their will. Yet, life moves along and circumstances change. Many provisions in the last will and testament are impacted by life’s changes.

People periodically review their financial portfolio; and they visit their doctor for regular checkups. The same idea applies to your estate plan.

A change in marital status is a common reason to revisit a will. For example, a first marriage or a re-marriage can change the way assets are treated under Louisiana’s community property laws. Spouses who are both re-marrying may come into the new marriage owning a significant amount of separate property. Specific instructions regarding their desires and intentions can be critical.

Divorce is a life changing circumstances that will likely change a person’s overall estate plan. Spouses often will appoint each other to act as executor over the others succession. Many divorced people do not want their ex-spouse remaining as executor of their will. All too often, however, spouses don’t review their will following a divorce. By failing to do so, they may be leaving in place a valid appointment of their ex-spouse as executor and possibly beneficiary.

As your family grows, the people you wish to bequeath property to may also change. New children, grandchildren, and stepchildren may prompt a need for clarification of your will. Guardianship for minor children should be considered. You may also want to specifically address the manner in which the minor’s assets are administered after your death; such as in a trust.

Many grandparents want to include gifts for their grandchildren in their will. Sometimes additional grandchildren are born after their will is drafted. These joyous events could prompt a change to the will.

Other events may prompt a revision to your will. Beneficiaries identified in a will may have passed away. Also, individuals sometimes grant a gift to a charity in their will. Over the years, a person’s preferred charity can change.

Financial circumstances of a person’s life may also give rise to a revision. The acquisition or disposal of a valuable asset such as a business or a large piece of real estate could also change the way a person wishes to dispose of their property upon death.

You could change your mind as to how a beneficiary receives their gift. That beneficiary’s actions may suggest that a gift should be placed interests in trust to be managed by trustee. On the other hand, the beneficiary may have proven themselves in a manner where a trust that was provided in a will is no longer necessary.

If there are significant changes to the will, a person may choose to execute an entirely new will and revoke the prior. If the changes are minor, you may decide that an amendment– called a codicil – will adequately address the changes.

Your will review may prompt a visit with your estate planning attorney. An estate planning professional might raise other issues beneficial to your overall goals. For example, your choice of individual to act under a power of attorney or a medical power of attorney has changed.

If you have not reviewed your will in the last three to five years, it may be time to do so. With all of life’s changes, you may need to change your will to reflect your wishes. Live life well. You make your legacy.

Ronald Ward, Jr. practices law in the areas of succession, estate planning, real estate, and business formations with his wife, Alycia, in Mandeville, Louisiana. He is a partner in The Ward Law Firm, L.L.C. (www.successionlawyer.com), and they own Landmark Title Group, L.L.C. (www.landmarktitlegroup.com). Mr. Ward is licensed to practice law in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, and can be reached at 985-624-5678.