Newton’s First Law of Motion states that an object at rest will remain at rest and an object in motion will remain at motion unless acted upon by an outside force. I often think of estate planning in a similar vein – your estate plan will remain the same unless it’s acted on by an outside force.
Often, the outside forces that cause people to speak with an estate planning attorney come in the form of major life changes – often, ones that that lead to stress or stressful situations.
Psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe created a list of 43 stressful life events that cause illness. It’s my experience that a number of the events on this list cause people to create a will or revisit their estate plans.
Change in Marital Situation
Both marriage and divorce create major financial change in your life. When you marry, you are often so in love that you don’t think to have discussions about the big questions. Do you want your new spouse to have part of your property if you die before they do? Do you want your new spouse to be the administrator of your estate? If you or your spouse has children from other relationships, you should consider provisions for them as well.
Similarly, if you get divorced you may not want your ex to inherit if you die before they do. People who divorce often forget about estate planning documents naming former spouses as inheritors, agents, or executors. Documents naming their spouses can be decades old, and should be revisited as soon as possible.
Death of a Loved One
Death of a spouse, parent, sibling, child, or close friend is never easy. In addition to feeling stress from death itself, we are forced to confront our own mortality and acknowledge that one day, we will die. Additionally, this is often a firsthand look at distribution of wealth and arguments over inheritance.
Increased stress levels are the last thing we wish on our family after we die, which is why people often seek out estate planning attorneys to create solid wills and estate plans after someone they love passes away.
Birth or Adoption of a Child
Like changes in your marital status, having or adopting a child is a radical change to your family. Unlike the addition of a adult spouse, however, adding a baby or young child to your life means that you suddenly have someone very young depending on you for all of their needs.
In addition to providing financially for your children at this time, you should also select guardians who will raise your children if you are deceased. Putting together a proper estate plan at this happy time will help ensure that your children’s future will be protected, even after you pass.
Purchase, Refinance, Sale, Or Foreclosure Of A Home Or Other Real Property
Homes and other real estate property are often the most significant investments that can be passed down from generation to generation. When someone buys property for the first time, they often visit an estate planning attorney to create a will, ensuring the property is passed to their descendants the way they want it to go. Refinancing property can also trigger a desire to revisit your estate planning documents especially if you are moving a property into or out of a living trust.
Similarly, if you will no longer maintain ownership of the property due to a sale or foreclosure procedures, you may wish to revisit your estate planning documents so they more accurately reflect your property ownership.
Diagnosis Of Illness Or Major Injury
Finally, being diagnosed with a major and potentially fatal illness is a major reason why people create wills. A diagnosis of cancer forces someone to consider their mortality as well as their legacy to children and loved ones.
In addition to working with an estate planning attorney to create a will that distributes your property after you pass, you should also create a durable healthcare medical power of attorney authorizing your agent to consent or withhold consent to medical procedures as well as a living will, which will lay out your wishes if you are in an unresponsive vegetative state.
If you are facing, or have recently undergone a major life change, contact Susan Sandys to put together or update your last will and testament.