If you drafted your will a long time ago, you may be thinking it’s time to take it out for review.
You’re right. Reviewing a will every few years is a smart idea and one I regularly recommend to my clients.
A will is one of the important legal documents nearly everyone should have. By creating a will you ensure that your desires determine who inherits your assets and, crucially if you have minor children, who you want to be their guardian should the worst happen.
If you don’t have a will, laws governing the state of Florida control that. Florida sets a predetermined line of inheritance starting with your closest relative, so if you want to leave something to, say, a friend or distant cousin, that is not possible without a will.
Sometimes a New Will Makes Sense
If you have married, divorced, or remarried; had children; fallen out with several of your beneficiaries; or otherwise have large parts of your will that no longer reflect your desires, it is smart to start from scratch and draw up a new Florida will.
The same holds true if you are making major changes, including who will serve as your personal representative. This is the person charged with handling your estate during the probate. Under Florida law, this person must either be a blood relative or a resident of the state.
It is important to create a will with an experienced attorney rather than from a do-it-yourself download, because too many crucial errors can be made when you DIY. Saving a few dollars now would not be worth it if your estate is ultimately not distributed the way you’d want it to be.
When Your Old Will Remains Perfectly Valid
In many other cases, though, your will should have held up to the test of time. Just because a will may have been drafted years—or even decades—ago, this does not automatically mean it needs to be tossed away and redone.
Clients come to our office with a will created 15, or even 30, years ago. Is the will still valid, they wonder, or is it like an old house that needs to be updated periodically?
Here are two situations where we let them know they do not need to draft a new will.
#1 When their family and/or friend situation has not changed
When the time comes to file a will with the court, no one in a courthouse looks at the date on a will and declares it spoiled. In other words, it doesn’t matter how long ago a will was created as long as the information in it remains correct.
Do you still want the person you appointed as your personal representative (the person in charge of probating your estate) to stay in that role, and is that person still willing to serve?
Do you still plan to leave your estate to the same people, and in the same proportions? In other words, are you still wanting to leave, say, half of your estate to your spouse and a quarter each to your two grown children from a prior marriage, as your will states? If so, it doesn’t matter if the dollar value of your estate is much higher (or much lower) than when you originally crafted the will.
#2 When you just need to make minor changes
It is legal to make changes to your will. You cannot simply cross out something after the will is executed, though, because the courts will not recognize these changes as valid (and if your writing obscures your original intent, it could invalidate part or all of the will).
But it is easy enough to make small changes, such as altering the percentages given to each heir or even disinheriting one of them.
This is done by having an attorney draft a codicil, which is simply a legal addition or amendment to a will, typically done in the same formal style.
Adding a codicil to your will means you can keep the original will intact (except for the changes outlined in the codicil). This is generally a much easier and less expensive alternative to creating an entirely new will from scratch.
Have the Law Office of Gary M. Landau by your side. The Law Office of Gary Landau is located in Coral Springs, Florida, and is rated 10 out of 10 by the legal website AVVO. For more information or a free phone consultation for your probate and real estate legal matters, call 954-979-6566 or email us. Attorney Gary Landau personally returns all calls to him.
Law Office of Gary M. Landau P.A.
7401 Wiles Road, Suite 204
Coral Springs, FL 33067
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