Life Changes Can Result In Unintended Consequences, Even For Those With Wills
Many years ago, I read an essay entitled “second-chance family” that reinforced the importance of keeping a Will updated.
It was written by a woman named Kate Simonson, who had been adopted as an infant. Her father died in a work accident when she was just three years old. Her mother raised Kate and her younger brother, Jason, until she died suddenly of a brain aneurysm when Kate was 17 and Jason was 15.
Even though they had extended family, none of the family members stepped forward to take them in, all with valid excuses. Her grandfather was too old to care for two teenagers. One of her aunts already had three children of her own. And their mother’s other two siblings were single with demanding jobs.
For many months, Kate and Jason lived in limbo. They lived in their mother’s house, supported by their mother’s kind ex-boyfriend, Mike Fieseler. He made sure they had food to eat and took care of maintaining their home.
But because they were minors and no family members could take them in, the state told them they would be forced to enter foster care. Thankfully, Kate and Jason’s story ends well. Mike Fieseler adopted both of them, giving her a “second-chance family.”
Why Once Is Not (Necessarily) Enough When It Comes to Your Will
Kate’s story is a perfect example of why Wills should be updated.
Kate’s mother did everything right – or so it seemed. She had made a Will and even had the foresight to name a guardian in that Will for her children. But over the years, she had neglected to update it. And the guardian she had nominated in her Will was a former babysitter who Kate and Jason had not seen in 15 years.
If she had updated her Will, she likely would have nominated a different person to serve as guardian for her children. In doing so, she would have helped Kate and Jason avoid feelings of abandonment and stress as they wondered who would take care of them after their mother’s death.
Kate and Jason were teenagers. Imagine how much more tragic this would have been if they were younger.
When Should I Update My Will?
As your family grows and changes, it is important to review your estate plan regularly to make sure your estate planning goals and objectives are still being met.
While there are no hard and fast rules about how often you should review your estate plan, the following life changes may trigger a need to do so:
- A change in your marital status
- An addition to your family, either by birth, adoption, or marriage
- A substantial change in the value of your assets or in your plan
for their use
- The incapacity or death of those named as beneficiaries or fiduciaries
- A move to another state
- Impending retirement
- Changes in the tax code
- The simple passage of time
A pandemic is also a good time to dust off your plan and make sure it is still accomplishing your goals.
Your Will is something that should change as your life does. Otherwise, it can become an outdated document that doesn’t accomplish your estate planning goals or protect the people that matter most…the family you leave behind.
This article was originally published on January 4, 2010, and updated on August 3, 2021.