Summer is here!  People all over Southern Illinois are preparing for the heat and planning their vacations.  The relaxation and perspective that a vacation brings makes it the perfect time to review your will and powers of attorney and update them to reflect your current wishes.  Here are ten situations where updating your will may be necessary.

1.  You are married with children and have no will at all.

If you are married and have children, but no will, half of all property that is not held jointly will go to the children if something happens to you and your partner.  This necessitates the appointment of a guardian ad litem and probate.

2. Your named executor has moved or passed away since the will was written.

In the event that the executor you named has moved away or is deceased since your will was written, the court will check to see whether there are any alternate executors or co-executors in your will.  If none of these can be appointed, the court may consider other family members or an attorney or organization that handles estates.  To be sure that your wishes are carried out, it is important to make sure you revise your will if the situation with your executor has changed.

3. Your children have become adults since the will was written.

If you last revised your will when your children were minors and they are now legal adults, it is out of date.  Most likely, there have been some life changes that need to be addressed.

4.  Your designated guardian for minor children has moved, passed away, or is no longer a suitable guardian.

If you die without naming a guardian for your children, or if your guardian is no longer alive or able to be contacted, the courts will end up deciding who will take care of them.  This can be a very traumatic experience for children of any age, especially since the court does not know your family dynamics.

5.  You haven’t reviewed your charitable bequests in awhile.

It is a good idea to periodically review your charitable bequests and amend them as necessary.  As your financial situation changes, you may wish to give more or less to a certain cause.  You also may have a new cause which you would like to support.

6.  You loaned money to one or more children since the will was written.

Whether or not you plan to forgive the debt at death, your wishes need to be made clear in your will.

7.  The house was promised to one child, but they will all inherit an undivided interest with no clear plan for right of first refusal.

If you want one particular child to own your house after you die, you need to state that in the will.  You can describe how to assess its value as well as how that child can buy out the interests of the brothers and sisters.

If you want one child to own the house without paying anything to the other children, you might want to explain why so you don’t foster jealousy between your children.  Perhaps one child lived nearby and helped you on a constant basis and this is your way of saying “thank you.” Or perhaps one child has experienced financial hardship while the other children are financially secure and this is your way of making sure your family does not slip into dire poverty.  Simple language can prevent family feuds or hurt feelings.

Keep in mind that even though you leave your home to a child, there might be a lien against it for the expenses related to your last illness or nursing home care if the State of Illinois Medicaid program provided assistance.

8.  You have a second marriage that isn’t reflected in your will.

If you do not update your will after you are married a second time, the will of the last spouse to die will dictate where your jointly-owned assets go.  In many cases, a trust is the best way to assure that both families receive the inheritance each parent planned.

9.  You are in a committed relationship, but not married.

If you are in a committed, long-term marriage, but there is no will or no mention of your significant other in the will, your relatives of the deceased will inherit all assets when you die, including personal belongings.  Your partner might not be appointed as the administrator of your estate.  Sorting out which partner purchased which items of personal property can be a difficult, messy, and painful situation.  On top of the grief of loss, the invasion of privacy can be traumatic.

10.  You adopted a pet.

Perhaps you have welcomed a furry friend into your life since writing your will!  In 2005, a new statute was enacted in Illinois, legally defining pets as companions rather than property.  This means it is now possible to plan a trust and appoint a legal guardian for your pet.  If you haven’t made provisions in your will for your cat or dog, summer vacation is the perfect time to do so.

For more information, please see my previous blog:

Are you sure your estate plan is done?  Think again!  What about your pet?