Estate Planning For Dummies
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Your will is a living document. Although a will’s intent is to provide for what happens to your estate after you have died, your will needs to change as your life changes. Don’t make the mistake of putting your will away and forgetting about it. You must make sure that the details of your will reflect changes in your life.

If the change to your will is triggered by an emotional event, such as being angry with a family member and wanting to write them out of the will, take time to clear your head before you act.

The reasons you need to change your will vary. The following are typical reasons to change a will:

  • After a marriage. You need to include your new spouse in your estate plan.

  • After a divorce. You most likely want to change what you planned on leaving to your ex-spouse.

  • After your spouse’s death. If you left a significant portion of your estate to your spouse in your will, you need to update your will.

  • After the death of one of your heirs or dependents. If an heir dies before you do, you need to update your will to reflect a new recipient.

  • After you experience a significant change in your estate’s value. For example your stock holdings may go way up (or way down!).

  • After any other change in your life that causes you to reevaluate to whom you want to leave something. For example, you become passionate about a specific cause and decide that you want to leave a large portion of your estate to some charity that champions that cause.

You can change your will in one of two ways:

  • You can create an entirely new will that supersedes your current will. Creating an entirely new will is relatively straightforward, especially in these days of computer files and printers. (Your attorney doesn’t need to have an entirely new will typed from scratch like in the old pre-personal computer days).

  • You can change or delete specific parts or add new parts to your current will. You can add, change, or delete specific parts of your current will without creating an entirely new will through a form called a codicil. A codicil is a separate document that adds to your original will. When should you use a codicil?

    • When your original will is very long and you want to make only a few, minor changes.

    • When your competency at the time of executing the codicil may be challenged. If someone does successfully argue that you were losing your grip in later years, the codicil may be overturned without affecting the will itself.

Because a codicil needs to clearly reference a specific portion of your will that it’s amending, ask your attorney to prepare any codicils rather than trying to do them yourself, no matter how simple it may seem to just write or type a couple of lines of text. If you mess up, your codicil most likely won’t be valid.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

N. Brian Caverly, Esq., is an attorney-at-law emphasizing estate planning and elder law. Jordan S. Simon is Vice President of Asset Management at Venture West, a Tucson-based investment firm.

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