A will is among the most important documents a person will ever sign, which is why far too many people believe it is best to tuck this instrument away for safekeeping after execution. Most assume that there is no need to pull a will out again until death. However, a San Francisco-based publisher of US financial news, analysis, and data argues otherwise. In a September 5, 2019 article, MarketWatch offered an excellent reminder of when it’s time to revisit a will, trust, and other estate planning instruments.
Many life events could require an estate plan update, but they generally involve financial shifts, welcoming new family members, saying goodbye to others, and related changes in circumstances. MarketWatch recommends updating a will to reflect current situations and intents, such as after relocation, the birth of a child, the death of a beneficiary, divorce, and many more.
Charles D. Stark, a Sonoma County attorney who focuses on wills, trust, and estate planning strategies, commended the article. “It’s essential to review your entire estate plan on a periodic basis, especially since life changes can lead to post-mortem arrangements you never intended. But realizing you should take a look is a far cry from actually making changes the proper way.”
Mr. Stark continued that there are legal issues related to updating a current, valid will. “You basically have two options: You can write a new will and destroy the old one, or you can create a codicil. The codicil is an amendment to your original will, which retains the main provisions you want to keep. You can pick and choose the terms according to your wishes. With a codicil, you don’t have to go through the entire process if there are only a few details to address.”
Under California law, both a new will and a codicil are subject to certain requirements to be valid. Each document must be signed by the maker in the presence of two witnesses. Because the requisites are the same, many people opt to make a new will. Being an amendment, it is easy to lose or misplace documentation related to a codicil.
In addition, California law does allow for holographic wills and codicils. Therefore, it is possible to create or update a will in the maker’s own handwriting, signed and dated by him or her. The potential for a will contest is strong with holographic wills, which is why estate planning attorneys like Mr. Stark recommend going through the official execution process.