Will Updates and Revisions
It might be a good time to pull out that Will you signed several years ago to see if it is up to date. People often sign their Wills and forget about them. However, it is likely that if you review your Will, you will see changes you want to make. It is a better idea to make a Will if you have procrastinated in doing this.
If your Will covered distribution of property for minor children, and those children are no longer minors, the provisions for trusts or appointing guardians may not be needed. If your children are under age 18, you should pick who you want as a Guardian both to raise the child and to handle money for the child.
When reviewing their Wills, people often realize the person named as the Executor or Executrix is not the person they now want to handle the Estate. The job of the Executor or Executrix (your personal representative under the Will) is to open your Estate, collect all assets, pay your debts and taxes, and distribute the assets in accordance with the terms of the Will. People often name a parent, brother or sister as personal representative. This is particularly true of people with young children, because one must be a legal adult to be a personal representative. When your children reach adulthood, it is likely you would be more comfortable having one of them named to carry out your wishes, to keep things in the immediate family.
Does your Will contain language covering what happens if a beneficiary named in the Will dies before you? Would that beneficiary’s children receive the share, or would it go to other people named in your Will? A typical example is when parents with 3 children leave everything to the 3 children, to be divided equally. What if one of the children dies before the parents? Would the deceased child’s share go to his or her children (the grandchildren), or to the 2 children who are still living?
You should also check to make sure the Will was witnessed by 2 people, signed by you, and, and dated. I often see cases where an attorney prepared a Will, and mailed it to the client, directing the client to make sure it is signed, dated and witnessed. Sometimes the client forgets to sign or date it, or does not get it witnessed, and the client dies leaving a Will that is unsigned, undated, or not properly witnessed.
I make it a practice to attach an Affidavit to each Will I prepare. This provides for notarization of the signatures of the person signing the Will and the witnesses’ signatures. The Affidavit, when properly prepared and signed by the witnesses and Notary, makes a Will “self proving”. This means that when someone with a Will dies and the Will is taken to the Register of Wills for probate, neither the witnesses nor the Notary have to give further testimony. The notarization “self-proves” the Will, and the Will is automatically accepted for probate without the witnesses having to go to the Register of Wills Office. This becomes important when witnesses to a Will move away, are ill, die or cannot be found, because the personal representative must diligently search for witnesses to non self proving Wills.
Another often disastrous mistake many people make is thinking they can change their Will by penning or typing in additional wording, or crossing out things they no longer want. Penning or typing in wording or crossing out items you no loner want included not only makes the change or deletion ineffective, it often invalidates that provision of the Will altogether. It is much wiser to have an attorney prepare your Will and make revisions to it for you. Revisions to an existing Will can be accomplished by having a Codicil prepared. A Codicil is a separate document which is an addendum to your Will. It must be signed and dated, and should be witnessed and notarized. A codicil refers back to the original Will, and permits changes to be made properly without needing to prepare a new Will.
The above are suggestions to help you put your affairs in order, which can give you peace of mind knowing your intentions are clearly stated and will be carried out. Check to see when you last prepared or revised your Will. Review whether there have been any major life changes – birth, death, marriage or divorce – that necessitate changes, or whether the Will needs updated in other respects.