Big life events often prompt us to update important documents like our will, add beneficiaries to our insurance, and update distributions for our retirement accounts. And much like the old infomercial said, we set it and forget it. But over the course of years, a lot can change in our lives, including the breakup of long-time relationships and marriages that end in divorce. In the aftermath, it is important to review these important documents and make updates as necessary.
It’s probably a good time to revisit a definition from our Glossary. A probate asset is something in the estate that can be transferred by a will. This can include things like money, real estate, and personal property like jewelry or cars. When you have a relationship with someone that is close enough that you include that person in your will, when that relationship ends, you may want to change your will to reflect the change in relationship.
A will can be changed in a couple of ways. First, an estate attorney can write a codicil to the will. A codicil is an addition to a will, written after the initial creation of the will. It provides additional or supplementary information to the will and when it is executed, it becomes fully part of the will, as part of the will.
A will can also be voided by the execution of a new will. An estate attorney who writes a will generally always includes language that explicitly revokes any prior wills, asserting that the new will is the only valid one.
As you know, hiring an estate attorney is an important part of making your estate plans. You can use the same attorney or law firm when you update your will, or you can use a different attorney. The writing of a codicil or new will can be undertaken by any competent estate attorney and it does not have to be the person who wrote the original document.
Again our Glossary gives a helpful definition of a non-probate asset. They are assets that cannot be passed on through a will. The most common example of a non-probate asset is insurance. The insurance documents themselves govern how the insurance money is distributed and a will cannot impact this type of asset.
Just like a will, though, you may alter beneficiaries during your lifetime. You simply need to contact the insurance company (or your employer if it is an employer policy) to update the beneficiary information.
Once you’ve made the necessary changes, don’t forget to tell your executor what you’ve done. You don’t have to outline all of the details of your new will or beneficiary distribution, but it is a good idea to let your executor know that you’ve taken care of this important work.
And if you’ve been told that you’ve been named as executor of an estate and know that person’s relationship status has recently changed, it is worth asking the question (at the appropriate time and in the appropriate way) whether they’ve addressed the change in their estate plans. It can often save time and help ensure their wishes are followed.