Why Your Will Matters
You have likely heard that you need a will and that having an established last will and testament is important. Your will is how the courts and your loved ones know your wishes and provides vital guidance on how you want your estate managed and distributed after your death. Your will is also where you can name guardians for any minor children or adult dependents and where you identify the preferred executor of your estate. In total, having a will in place ensure that your loved ones are taken care of and that the right beneficiaries inherit your estate.
Many people have heeded this advice and established their will already. But how often do you update your will? Just as it is important to develop a legally valid will, it is equally important that you update your will after certain major life events to ensure that it is both up to date and accurately reflects your wishes.
When to Update Your Will
While some people think that you can just create a will and forget about it, it is advised that you review your will (and other estate planning documents) every five years, as well as at major life events. As time goes by, your circumstances change, and your original will may not be adequate for your needs. For example, as you acquire more property and assets, your will should reflect how you want that property managed. Similarly, if you have more children or become responsible for other dependents (such as an aging relative or a disabled spouse), you want to be sure they are provided for in your will.
Major life events that should trigger you to update your will include:
- Marriage or a new long-term partner
- Divorce or separation
- The birth of a new child or grandchild
- Changes in your health
- The loss of a family member
- A significant change in your circumstances, including financial setbacks
- A substantial change in your child's or a dependent's circumstances
- Changes to your estate plan, including new trusts
Additionally, your will should be reviewed in the context of changing laws. As tax and estate laws change over time, how you want your estate managed after your death may also be affected. Your attorney can help you determine if changing laws impact your estate and can guide you in adjusting your will and other estate planning documents accordingly.
What Should I Do with My Will If I Divorce?
Does a divorce invalidate a will? The answer to this question is more complicated than a simple yes or no. In general, it does not invalidate your existing will, but it can prevent your former spouse (or their relatives) from inheriting from your estate or acting as executor (should they have been named as such in the will).
According to Texas Estates Code § 123.001, after a divorce, all provisions (including all fiduciary appointments) in the will are to be read as if the testator's (will creator) spouse and spouse's relatives did not survive the testator. The exception to this is if your will has provisions stating that your ex-spouse (or their named relatives, such as stepchildren) will still inherit in the event of a divorce.
If you are planning to divorce or have divorced already, you should reach out to a knowledgeable estate planning attorney right away to discuss your will and make any necessary changes. For example, if you wish part of your estate to go to your stepchildren, even after your divorce, but do not have any specific provisions made for them, you will need to have your will adjusted.
What Happens If You Die Without a Will?
According to the Texas Estates Code, if you die intestate (without a will), your estate will be managed, divided, and distributed by the courts. After someone has died, their estate must go through the probate process, and without a will in place, you and your loved ones lose all control over how that process is handled. From naming your preferred executor to identifying your beneficiaries, you have no guarantees that your wishes will be followed or even known without a will.
Furthermore, probate is an expensive process and made even more so when someone dies intestate. When someone dies intestate, the courts must appoint an administrator of your estate (usually an attorney), and the costs associated with probating your estate will be taken out of the estate itself. To help avoid high probate costs and help ensure that the process goes smoothly, you should speak with an attorney about establishing a will.
To learn more about what happens when you die intestate, review our blog here.
Other important estate planning tools you should also consider include:
- Powers of attorney, including medical power of attorney
- Directive to physician
- Declaration of guardianship
- Appointment for disposition of remains
No matter where you are in the estate planning process, Hunt Law Firm, PLLC can help. If you are ready to update your will or you want more information on the best estate planning tools for your situation, reach out to us online to schedule a consultation.