How to change a will or trust

James Alvord specializes in wills and trusts, which may need a checkup following major life changes. Courtesy photo

While it’s true that wills and trusts go into effect the moment they are signed and they last up to and beyond a person’s death, life changes at any time may create a true need for a do-over.

What kind of changes? For instance, when a person and their spouse are going through a divorce, will they still want to leave everything to “someone who did them so wrong?” Other traumatic events, like a death in the family or a major change in the condition of the person who was chosen as executor, may be wreaking havoc to a will or trust.

And it’s not just the doom and gloom happenings – maybe there’s a new love in someone’s life, or maybe their three grandchildren are now numbering six with more on the horizon. They need to be included in the plans, right?

Lawyers call these occurrences life events. Sometimes the government can trigger a life event. By changing tax laws, the state and federal government can throw a giant wrench into a well-conceived scheme to leave behind an estate to be remembered. For example, as recently as 1997, the federal government taxed estates worth more than $600,000 at a stunning 55%. That caused lawyers to create small tax dodges like A/B split trusts that saved some taxes but left surviving spouses with a whole new set of problems.

Nowadays, unless an individual estate is worth more than $11.4 million or $22.46 million as a couple, there is no federal estate tax. Getting rid of the A/B splitting language is one of the most popular features amended when couples seek to update their trusts.

But by far the most popular change being made in wills and trusts today involves the distribution schedule. Who gets what, and its twin, who isn’t getting what. Times change; people change.

The much beloved grandson may someday prove to be unworthy of a gift from the estate. A daughter-in-law may have divorced their in-laws’ son. Do they still want her on their beneficiary list?

I have a list of charities in my trust that are to receive gifts from my estate after I’m gone. I review that list every Dec. 31, before the party starts to see if any fraudulent activities have occurred that would render a charity unworthy of a gift from my trust regardless of how meager that gift may prove to be. Granted, they might not feel the loss of my generosity, but think what would happen if everyone did the same thing.

Some lawyers like to tell their clients they need to review their will or trust once a year. While this frequency may assist the lawyers in making their car payments, I don’t think people need to be quite that vigilant.

Just think about coming life events and take a quick look at the estate papers. Is the choice of executor or successor trustee still OK? Have the right person been named to make medical or financial decisions? What is the plan in place in case they become very ill or disabled? Does the will’s distribution plan need a tuneup or maybe a whole new engine?

Attorney James Alvord is offering a free, confidential consultation to talk over your particular circumstances. Call him directly at (760) 728-1960 to set an appointment.