I suppose we should be thanking Forbes magazine for giving us so much material for our newly launched blog; their article earlier in the week presenting a flimsy case against writing your own Will has triggered at least a half a dozen full blog articles on why it really is a good idea to prepare your own Will.
Today we’ll focus on another one of the comments towards the end of the article http://bit.ly/bywL2y
“It cost my husband and me $4,500 for a package of basic estate-planning documents–his-and-her wills, powers of attorney, living wills and life insurance trusts–prepared in 1997 after our son was born. By today’s standards, we got ripped off.”
The concern we had with this comment is that the author had not updated her Will for 14 years and this is typical for people paying thousands of dollars. We also received this email from a new customer of LegalWills;
“Hello, I have discovered your website while looking for information on behalf of my mother. She needs to update and change her will, but logistics as well as cost make it difficult for her to do so in the way she did previously, on her own. This was through a local notary public, and the cost was exorbitant, especially as she did not realize she was being charged $150 per item to add items to the will. She cannot afford that now…At 82, she has waited nearly a decade to change things, simply because of those fees. Unfortunately, I wasn’t around to help her until now.”
This creates a very serious problem; we all know that at least 60% of adults do not have a Will in place, but of those who do, most are not updated on a regular basis. It is a very dangerous misconception to think that once you have a Will in place, it will serve you for the rest of your life. When I tell people that I am associated with the LegalWills websites it is frightening how often I hear statements like “Oh, I have my Will written already, mind you, it was prepared before Billy and Lucy were born”. In other words, the Will is obsolete because it doesn’t include critical information about minor trusts and guardians for the children. In fact, the whole distribution of property section is almost useless if it doesn’t include the minor children as alternate beneficiaries.
We feel that at a minimum the Will has to be updated when you get married, divorced, or have children. It certainly should also be updated if one of your beneficiaries pre-deceases you or your first choice plan cannot be followed. But you should also update your Will if there is a change to your business life, your financial situation, your Executor’s situation, the value of your assets, or if you move your place of residence. And being that you probably won’t remember to go back to your Will in each of these circumstances, you should just review your Will on a regular basis, at least annually, to make sure that it still reflects your wishes. You have a right to update your Will even for something as simple as falling out with one of your beneficiaries or your Executor.
The concern for those who have a Will prepared by a lawyer for thousands of dollars, is how long will the document be good for? If you are extremely lucky, it may last you 14 years, but it could last less than a day if any of these life events happen to you as you walk out of the lawyers office. Realistically, your Will is going to be a useful expression of your wishes for several months, maybe a couple of years.
The next question is how do you update your Will? The first, extremely ill advised way, is to write on the Will. Don’t do it, even if the change is trivial; it will be impossible to know who made the update and when, and it is an invitation to challenge the Will.
The second is by preparing a codicil which is a piece of paper listing the amendments that is then attached to the Will. At LegalWills.ca, USLegalWills.com and LegalWills.co.uk we believe that a codicil is an anachronistic tool from a bygone age. They were used because people had the reasonable but unrealistic expectation that a lawyer would charge less to prepare a codicil than they would to create a Will. It turns out that this is rarely the case; the process for creating a codicil is almost exactly the same as creating a Will and both documents need to be signed and witnessed in exactly the same way.
With today’s technology, and certainly if you use an online interactive service, you should just create a brand new Will. You can usually just log into your account, make the change that you need, print a new version, sign it in the presence of witnesses and then destroy your old Will. You will then have an up-to-date legal Last Will and Testament.
Just as you may have made it a New Year’s Resolution to create your Last Will and Testament in the first place, make it a resolution to review it on an annual basis and make any changes that you need. Create a new Will each time and destroy the old version.