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Legal Matters: Changing a Will

May 9, 2012 6:10 pm

Many people don’t spend enough time thinking about their will, but it is extremely important to keep your will updated. As life changes, so do potential beneficiaries and heirs. If you do not keep your last will and testament updated, it may not reflect your wishes given your new circumstances. The following are good situations in which changing a will may be wise. 

• Marriage: When you get married, both you and your spouse should each create a new will. Most states have laws that award a percentage of your estate to your spouse upon your death, including those states that recognize gay marriage. However, if you want to devise your will differently, you should specify this in your will. Furthermore, adding your spouse to your will may change the percentage of your estate, or of a specific asset, that another beneficiary or heir was previously written to receive. Changing a will should reflect this new proportion as you see fit. 

• Common Law Marriage: If you and a partner live in Alabama, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Washington, D.C., you may be considered a married couple under your states Common Law Marriage law. Generally, there are several requirements that must first be met for a valid common law marriage. If you meet these terms, the law may treat you and your partner as a married for probate purposes. Be sure to check your states law. 

• Obtaining a new partner, without marriage: Only if married will your partner automatically receive assets from your estate. So, if you find yourself with a new loved one, changing a will to reflect what you would like to leave that partner is necessary. However, if you are registered domestic partners in California, Maine, or New Jersey, reciprocal beneficiaries in Hawaii, or civil union partners in Vermont or Connecticut, then the rules may be different; so, be sure to check your states laws, if you live in one of those states. 

• Divorce: Upon divorce, some states revoke any gifts you leave your spouse in your will. Other states do not. Changing a will upon a divorce is very important. You will want to either specify what you want to leave your former spouse, or else specify how those gifts should now be distributed. 

• A new baby: There are laws in some states that give children some portion of your assets upon your death. However, not everyone wants their property to be distributed the way the state laws specify. If you welcome a new baby into your family, be sure to specify what gifts, the baby shall receive, by changing a will. Perhaps more importantly, be sure to appoint a guardian for the baby. This will be the person who will care for your baby should anything happen to you. 

• New stepchildren: Stepchildren are not automatically entitled to inherit a share of your property in many states. Therefore, if you would like for your stepchildren to inherit any of your property, be sure to specify your wishes by changing your own will. 

• Moving from a community property state to a common law property state: The laws governing what each spouse owns vary depending on whether the couple lives in a community property state or a common law property state. Therefore, if you are planning on moving to a new state, check that states laws. If it differs from the one you currently reside it, be sure to change your own will, according to your new property ownership status. 

• Changing your mind about heirs: Of course, things can happen in life that cause people to change their minds about the way in which theyd like their property distributed. Changing a will to reflect these new wishes is important. 

• New or disposed of assets: If in your will you leave all of your property or a percentage of your property to your heirs, then when what you own changes, there is no need to change your will. However, if you have willed certain gifts to people in your will, and you no longer have those properties, be sure to remove said property from your will. Additionally, when you acquire new property, be sure to account for that in your will. 

Source: Findlaw.com
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