Think about the biggest life change you’ve had in the past year. The past five years? Now think about what’s coming up in the next five.
You’ve probably got at least one major event that either just happened or is getting ready to happen. Maybe you’re celebrating the birth of your first baby or grandbaby. Maybe you’re retiring from a long career or just starting one. Maybe you had to move unexpectedly.
The point is, life changes. And that means your end-of-life plans have to change too.
You were smart to plan ahead with your original will, but you couldn’t have predicted all the twists and turns your life would take. And that’s why you have to keep your will up-to-date. But when and why should you revise your will?
There are eight times your will needs a makeover. We’ll walk you through these situations and why they matter, so you can feel confident that you’re covered no matter what. Let’s get started! Changing your will is a good idea if you’re in any of these situations:
1. Getting Married
You needed a will for yourself when you were single, but once you’re married, your will needs to include your spouse ASAP.
Unsure how to talk about your end-of-life wishes? Use this free guide.
You may be wondering, Why? If I die, my spouse will get my stuff. That would be true if you died without a will. Then the courts would split your stuff between your spouse and your kids if you have them.
But if you already have a will, that’s all your family and the courts have to go on—so your stuff will go to the people you picked when you were single, not your spouse. If your spouse wants to contest the will, they’ll have to spend months in court fighting to get back all the things you shared since the wedding.
Updating your will (and getting a will for your spouse) ensures that you’re taking care of each other—and that’s the ultimate way to say “I love you.”
2. Having a Child
Having a child covers more than having your first baby (although it covers that too). Here are a few other situations you may find yourself in when you become a parent:
Adopting your first child, regardless of their age
Growing your family by having or adopting additional children
Creating a blended family by marriage
When you have a child, you need to change your will immediately to appoint a guardian for them. Otherwise, the courts will choose who takes care of them if you die—and that’s not a decision to trust the government with!
You also need to update the guardianship portion of your will each time your family grows. That way, you can ensure that all your kids go to the same person and that the courts won’t separate them—which is especially important if you have a big family.
Guardianship is a big reason parents need to make sure their wills are in order, but it’s not the only one. You can also revise your will to leave instructions for taking care of your child, money for raising them and assets they’ll get when they’re adults. You’ll be taking care of your kids even when you’re no longer present.
3. Children Growing Up
On the flip side, once your kids turn 18, they’re legally adults. They don’t need someone to take care of them anymore. That can be a tough pill to swallow if you still make Little Johnny’s bed and do his laundry for him, but it’s true!
And it means your will needs to change. Your will doesn’t need to appoint guardians to take care of little kids anymore. Instead, it needs to recognize the responsible young adults you raised by making them full-fledged beneficiaries.
Now that your kids are legally adults, think about the gifts you want to leave them. What personal items would they cherish? What major assets would set them up for the best future? How would you divide those assets between your kids if you have more than one?
You might find that your son could use your money to pay for his trade school or that your daughter would get the most use out of the family car. Now’s your chance to bless your kids with everything from the car to the kitchen sink!
However, those blessings will look a little different if your kids have a lifelong disability that will keep them from caring for themselves. In that case, you do still need to update your will when they turn 18—but you need to focus on care instructions, adult guardianship and where they’ll live if they can’t live with you.
4. Getting Divorced
Divorce is hard for you, your kids and even your extended family. And you know what’s even harder? Leaving your family to fight an outdated will if something happens to you after the divorce.
Like most married couples, you probably named your spouse as your beneficiary. That way if one partner dies, the surviving partner gets all the assets (like the house, cars, bank accounts and personal items). That was a smart thing to do at the time. But those instructions don’t expire just because you got divorced.
As long as your ex’s name is in the will, you’re still leaving everything to them even though you’re no longer married. And the last thing you want is for your ex to get all your assets and leave your kids, extended family or potentially even a new partner with nothing.
Do your family a favor and update your will after the divorce so they don’t get stuck in probate for years.
5. Losing Someone Close to You
Losing a loved one is never easy, and it can feel emotional or even wrong to think about your own end-of-life wishes at a time like this. But this is exactly when you should think about your will.
If your loved one died without a will or if their will was unclear, you can see how important it is to have one and keep it up-to-date. You might find some gaps in your own will—things you left out or that are outdated—that you can fix.
Your loved one’s passing might even have created those gaps, and you might need to refill some roles if that person was supposed to be part of carrying out your wishes. For example, you will most likely need to update your will if you lose:
Your spouse. Who else can you give guardianship of the kids, the house or other major assets to?
Your child. We hope you never find yourself here, but if you do, you’ll need to consider how this affects your will. Do you need to remove a clause about your child’s guardian? Were you planning to give them gifts that now need to go to someone else?
Your child’s guardian. If the person you picked for this role passes away, it’s important to update your will as soon as possible. Who do you trust to take their place as your child’s guardian?
Your personal representative. This is the person who’s supposed to carry out your wishes if something happens to you. So if something happens to them, who else can handle this responsibility?
Your beneficiary. If you leave a gift to someone who is no longer living, the rest of your family could land in probate court to decide who gets that item—especially for valuable things people are likely to argue over. To prevent that tension, who could you give those things to instead?
Now let us be clear here: We’re not saying to make these changes right away. In fact, it’s a good idea to wait at least six months to a year before making any big decisions after a loss. You need time to grieve and learn to cope with the pain so you don’t make choices you’ll regret later.
But after you’ve had a chance to start feeling a little more like yourself again, the things we mentioned in this list are the things you’ll need to think about when you’re ready to update your will.
6. Changing Assets
So far we’ve looked at revising your will because of changing personal relationships. But there are also times when your will needs to change because of your circumstances.
For example, any time you have a big change in what you own or in your finances, your will should reflect that. Buying a house? Put it in the will. Buying a car or a boat? In the will. Finally investing in your retirement account? Yep, that too.
Or maybe you sold a big item like land, a house or a vehicle. Or you closed out a bank account. Those changes need to go in the will too. Otherwise your loved ones are going to be pretty disappointed when you leave them something you don’t even own anymore!
7. Moving to a New State
There are a million things to think about when you’re moving, and if we’re being honest, your will probably isn’t at the top of your list. But updating it is one of the first things you should do when you get settled into your new digs.
That’s because states have different rules about how to handle a person’s passing. Even if your new state recognizes your old will, your personal representative might have trouble carrying out your wishes if your will doesn’t fit the rules or if it’s missing information your new state requires.
And that means your family could find themselves tied up in the probate process while the court decides how to fill the gaps that are left in your will. It's much easier for your family if you just go ahead and update your will when you move.
8. Changing Your Mind
And finally, your will should change when your mind does. If you decide you want to give more to charity or you don’t think your irresponsible nephew Todd should get the car, then change it! It’s your will—you need to be comfortable and confident in what it’s doing with your stuff and for your family.
Because at the end of the day, the whole point of a will is to give you peace of mind. It takes away your anxiety because you know things will get handled the way you want, and it helps you feel good about the legacy you’re leaving your loved ones.
But if there are a lot of changes or your will is really out-of-date, the best thing you can do is start over with a new one that overrides any old will you already have. Sound like a lot of work? It’s not!
Online wills have made creating a new will quick, easy and affordable. You can make a legally binding will in just 20 minutes, from the comfort of home. The best part? When you work with our trusted partners, you’ll have six months to make changes for free. So when your life changes, your will can too. Get your will today.