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Reviewing and Updating Your Will

Sanders & Sanders, Attorneys at Law June 25, 2024

Creating a will is essential in planning for the future, but it shouldn't be a "set it and forget it" document. Like any other important aspect of your life, you will need regular reviews and updates to reflect your current wishes and circumstances.  

Here are some practical tips and insights to make the process of updating a will smoother. 

Why Reviewing Your Will is Crucial 

Life is full of changes—marriage, the birth of a child, or a significant financial shift—that can necessitate updates to your will. Failing to review your will can have unintended consequences, such as outdated beneficiary designations or overlooked assets. 

One important reason for reviewing your will is to account for changes in family structure. For example, if you have welcomed new family members, such as a spouse or child, your will should include provisions for their care and inheritance. Conversely, if a family member named in your will has passed away, you need to update your document to reflect this loss. 

Another important aspect of reviewing your will involves reassessing your financial situation. Significant changes in your assets, such as purchasing a new home or acquiring valuable investments, should be documented in your will.  

When Should You Update Your Will? 

There are several key moments in life when updating your will becomes necessary. While there is no fixed timeline for these updates, certain events should prompt immediate action.  

One of them is marriage or divorce. When you enter a new marriage, your spouse should be included in your will, and their inheritance rights must be specified. Similarly, in the case of a divorce, removing your former spouse from your will and updating beneficiary designations is essential to avoid potential conflicts. 

Another significant event that warrants updating your will is the birth or adoption of a child or the addition of stepchildren or grandchildren. Including provisions for their care and inheritance will secure their well-being and avoid disputes in the event of your passing.  

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Updating Your Will 

Updating your will may seem straightforward, but there are some common mistakes that can complicate the process. 

One is failing to update beneficiary designations on financial accounts and insurance policies. It is important to review all your accounts and policies and verify that the beneficiary information aligns with your updated will. 

Another is not consulting with an attorney. While it may be tempting to go DIY, seeking professional guidance ensures that your will is legally sound, and your wishes are clearly articulated. 

The Role of an Executor in Your Updated Will 

Choosing the right executor for your will is a critical decision that can significantly impact the ease and efficiency of the probate process. The executor is responsible for carrying out your wishes, managing your estate, and distributing assets to beneficiaries. When updating your will, you must carefully consider who will take on this important role. 

They should be someone you trust implicitly, as they will have access to your financial information and be responsible for making important decisions. They should possess strong organizational skills, attention to detail, and the ability to communicate effectively with beneficiaries and legal professionals. 

You should also name an alternate executor in case your primary choice is unable or unwilling to fulfill the role. Discuss your decision with your chosen executor and obtain their consent to ensure they are prepared for the responsibilities. 

Naming and Updating Beneficiaries 

Beneficiaries are individuals who will inherit your assets, so it is important that your designations are current to prevent legal disputes and confusion. You should be specific when naming beneficiaries, including their full names and relationship with you.  If you have multiple beneficiaries, you should clearly outline the distribution of assets. 

In addition to updating beneficiaries in your will, you should also review and update beneficiary designations on retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and other financial instruments. These designations override your will, so keep them current to ensure consistency and prevent conflicts. 

How Often Should You Review Your Will? 

While there is no set rule for this, certain life events and milestones should prompt a thorough review and potential updates. 

A good rule of thumb is to review your will every three to five years, even if no significant changes have occurred. This keeps your document accurate and consistent with your current circumstances. Major life events such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child, or significant financial changes should prompt an immediate review and update. 

Consult an estate planning attorney during these reviews to confirm that your will remains legally sound and adheres to changes in state laws.  

Creating a Letter of Instruction 

While not legally binding, a letter of instruction can be a valuable complement to your will. This document provides additional guidance and context for your loved ones, helping them understand your wishes and manage your affairs after your passing. 

A letter of instruction can include details such as funeral arrangements, contact information for key individuals, and instructions for managing specific assets. This information can help your loved ones follow your wishes.  

Probate Laws in Washington D.C. and Maryland 

When you review and update your will, you need to understand the specific laws and regulations that apply in your state. Complying with these requirements ensures that your will is legally binding and can be probated without issue. 

In Maryland, for example, a will is valid only if it is in writing and signed by the testator (the person making the will) in the presence of two witnesses. Maryland law allows for handwritten (holographic) wills under certain conditions.  

In Washington D.C., a will must be signed by the testator with two witnesses. However, D.C. law also permits the use of self-proving affidavits, which eliminates the need for witnesses to testify about the will's validity. 

Wills, Trusts & Estate Planning Attorneys in Upper Marlboro, Maryland 

At Sanders & Sanders, Attorneys at Law, we understand the importance of having a well-crafted will that reflects your wishes and protects your loved ones. With over seven decades of combined experience, our husband-and-wife legal team provides personalized and professional estate planning services.

Located in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, our attorneys serve individuals and families throughout Clinton, Bowie, Fort Washington, Largo, and Washington D.C. Our knowledge of wills, trusts, and estate planning allows us to guide you in making informed decisions and provides peace of mind for you and your family. Call today to schedule a consultation.