When people hear that I am a trust, estates, and asset protection lawyer they often ask, "How often do I have to change my wlll?"
The answer to that question is more complex than you might think. But for most people, who update every seven to ten years, that is not often enough and if you don't update your will or trust, your true wishes might never be known or followed.
I tell clients to review their wills every three five years, if not more often. Changes may not be needed, but you should think about what they say. However, there is really no firm or fast rule. The reason that I say five years is that by then, in my experience, most people have had quite a few changes in their personal lives, and there have often been quite a few changes in the tax laws or other related laws such as medicaid.
But, the real answer to the question of "How often should I change my will? is as often as needed. In fact, in a recent case, a woman did a will in which she directed that her body be given to a private foundation and that her head be cryogenically frozen. According to her heirs, she subsequently changed her mind but not her will and a Judge awarded the money and the woman's body to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation.
Now state laws vary significantly about who controls your body once you're deceased. But the point is, that you should review your will, trusts, and beneficiary designations with some regularity. If your personal circumstances change, make sure to get an appointment to change your will. Some people will simply scratch out a name and write in another.
But, there are very good reasons that wills have to be executed with some formality and according to rules that ensure that they accurately state your wishes. For that reason, casual changes to your will without witnesses and without all of the formailites required by state law might and probably will invalidate the changes.
So what are some of the reasons to update?
See part two of this series for a checklist of reasons to update a will.
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David M. Frees III, Esquire
Chairman: Unruh, Turner, Burke and Frees - Trust, Estates, and Wealth Preservation Section
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David has offices in Paoli, Phoenixville, and West Chester Pennsylvania. These offices serve clients throughout Chester County, Montgomery County, and Lancaster County. Communities served include Devon, Frazer, Exton, Chester Springs, Downingtwon, Wayne, Armore, Berwyn and many more on the Western Main Line and beyond.