It’s time to write a new will if you’re experiencing a big change in your life, such as moving, getting married or divorced, moving in with a new partner, or bringing a new baby into the family. Your will should be tailored to your current family and financial situation, not the one you faced five years ago or maybe more recently.

Below are events when you are likely to need to make a new will and and also review the beneficiaries on your insurance policies, bank accounts, and retirement accounts.

  • You get married. You and your new spouse should create new wills when you get married. Your spouse will be legally entitled to claim a share of your property after you die, unless you have a written agreement to the contrary. This includes married same-sex couples. If you don’t want to leave your property to your spouse, make a will.
  • You are unmarried, but have a new partner. Without a will or alternate estate plan, such as a living trust, your partner will inherit nothing. To avoid this, you and your partner should make new wills.
  • You get divorced. A final judgement of divorce revokes any gift made by your will to your former spouse. So you should make a new will after a divorce.
  • You bring a new baby into the family. You’ll want to make a new will to name a personal guardian for the little one. This is the person you want to raise your child in the unlikely event that both you and the other parent become unavailable.
  • You have new step-children. Unless you legally adopt step-children, they have no right to inherit from you in most situations. If you want to leave them a share of your property, you should adjust your will.
  • You acquire or dispose of substantial assets, such as a home. If you leave all of your property to one or more people or organizations, there is no need to change your will if this property changes. But if you’ve made specific gifts of property that you no longer own, you’ll want to avoid leaving the intended beneficiaries out in the cold. (If you no longer own the property, the beneficiaries are probably out of luck; they won’t get anything in lieu of it.) Likewise, if you obtain new property and you want to leave it to someone specific, you’ll need to change your will to make your wishes clear.
  • You change your mind about who you want to inherit a significant portion of your property. If you decide to leave a share of your property to someone else, you’ll need to create a new will.
A guide to the grounds on which a will may be contested.

A guide to the grounds on which a will may be contested.

Changing a will

There are two ways to change a will. One is to add a ‘codicil’ to it. A codicil is a sort of legal ‘P.S.’ to the will, revoking part of it or adding a provision, such as a new gift of an item of property. Simple codicils made sense in the era of typewriters, when creating a brand-new will was a hassle, but today they are normally a poor idea. Codicils can create confusion – sometimes even conflict – and they must be dated, signed, and witnessed just like a will.

It’s usually just as easy to make a new will. In it, you revoke your old one by including a simple statement like this: ‘I revoke all wills and codicils that I have previously made’. It’s also a good idea to gather up all copies of your old will and then destroy them.

Changing other estate documents

Don’t forget that much of your property will probably pass outside the terms of your will. For example, individual retirement accounts, joint or payable-on-death bank accounts, stocks registered with a transfer-on-death form, and life insurance proceeds go directly to the beneficiaries you’ve named. Your will has no effect on them. If you’ve changed your mind about who you want to inherit these kinds of property, you’ll need to change the documents on which you named the beneficiary.

If you have a living trust and want to change its terms, you can add an amendment to the original document. You may then need to transfer property in or out of the trustee’s name. Unlike a will, you do not usually revoke a trust and start over if you want to make a change.

Remember to review your entire estate plan periodically to see if there are any changes you want to make. Once a year would not be too often.