Life is unpredictable.
People get married, and divorced. Family members pass away, and new family members are born. Kids grow up. Some become wildly successful, some develop disabilities, and some become estranged.
The above are all reasons why you might want to change your existing estate plan. I’ve spent a lot of time on this website explaining why you should have a good estate plan, but how do you go about changing it?
If circumstances change and you need to change your Will to correspond, you can execute a codicil. A codicil is a legal document in which you amend your Will. You can use it to appoint someone different as executor, trustee or guardian for your children. Or change who you leave your property to when you pass away, or how your property is allocated. You can direct that property go into a trust, to protect against divorce or lawsuit costs or protect disability benefits.
If you’re making complicated changes to your Will, then it may be better to create a new Will. The execution requirements are the same for a Will or a codicil. For a healthcare directive or power of attorney, it is usually more economical to create new documents than to amend old ones. In general, it’s wise to update your documents every decade or so, since laws and family circumstances change.
You should not assume that your documents will automatically conform to changes in your life, and it’s wise to review your documents if a major life change occurs. For example, imagine that a married couple create Wills when they have no children. The Wills provide that their property will go to siblings and other relatives. If the couple later has children and doesn’t update their documents, the kids would be cut out and inherit nothing unless the documents provide otherwise.
The one exception is for divorce. An appointment of a spouse as executor, and a bequest of property left to a spouse, are both revoked on divorce per N.J.S.A. 3B:3-14. Likewise, appointment of a spouse in a healthcare directive is also revoked on divorce per NJSA 26:2H-57. However, these revocations are made only when the divorce is finalized, not when it’s started. That can lead to some awkward situations. After you’ve filed for divorce, you’d probably prefer that your spouse doesn’t retain the right to pull the plug on you.
It’s important to update your documents when major life changes occur, and FriedmanLaw is here to help.