Writing a will is a lot to take on, mentally and emotionally. Not only does it make you confront your own mortality, but it also forces you to make big decisions about who you trust to handle your financial and personal matters after you’re gone. It’s a lot to take on, but it’s one of those to-dos that can afford you huge peace of mind once it’s done.
Once you’ve made a will, however, you can’t just shove it into a drawer and forget about it. You have to update it regularly to make sure it reflects your personal circumstances and wishes. But how often is adequate?
I asked Allison Kade, editorial director at Fabric, a life insurance provider that offers free wills through its mobile app, how often you should expect to make updates to your will. She said you should be reviewing your will way more often than you might think.
In short, any change to your assets or your family status warrants a review of your will. Those events can include:
A death in the family
Making a large purchase or sale (house, vehicle)
A change in your debt status (took on or paid off a mortgage, perhaps)
Launching or closing a business
A falling out with a family member or close friend who may have been named in your will
If haven’t had any of those events take place, you should still review your will every year, Kade said. “Even if your life seems the same, look. It might be just five minutes to take a look and say, ‘All good, nothing’s changed,’” she said.
Kade said that reviewing your will also helps you take a quick inventory of who’s named in your document as an executioner, a beneficiary, or legal guardian. If a parent or other family member’s health has changed dramatically in the past year, it may be time to select someone else to handle your estate if you die. Or, if you named someone as a legal guardian for your kids but that person has been struggling financially recently, you may want to name someone else so as not to burden the original person you named.
This doesn’t mean you have to start over and rethink everything. You can set contingencies in your will to serve as a backup in case the first person you name can’t fulfil that role if the need arises. “If you forget to update your will, you want to have that backup,” Kade said.
Making extensive updates to your will essentially requires you to write a new will. If the changes are minor or limited to one small section of the will, you may be able to attach a codicil.
If you worked with an attorney, ask about fees for updating your will. While you can expect a flat fee of at least $1,000 to $2,000 to have a new will drawn up, an attorney you’ve worked with already is likely to charge you an hourly rate to update your will.
Took the DIY route? Some online will-writing services will charge a membership fee allowing you to make updates whenever you like; others will allow you to log in and make updates for free. Make sure to follow the instructions to make sure your will is legally binding after making an update.