When big life changes happen, people tend to focus on the immediate. Whether it’s a wedding or a new baby, it’s only natural to focus on the lifetime of adventure that lies ahead and forget about planning for the end of those journeys. But planning ahead after major life changes — both the happy and sad ones — is crucial to ensuring your loved ones know how to handle the treasures and memories you will one day leave behind.
While writing a will isn’t the only future kind of future planning you’ll want to consider, it’s a great place to start planning for the future. And anyone about the age of 18 can make one. The purpose of a will is to ensure that anything you might leave behind goes to the person or organization you intended to have it.
A good time to create your will is after acquiring any kind of major asset — like purchasing a home or receiving a trust fund distribution or a financial gift. You may also want to write a will if you know that you will eventually inherit money, even if you haven’t received it yet. You may also want to write a will if you have items that you cherish, like a family heirloom or a rare record collection, and want a specific person to have after you are gone.
But, while a will must be finalized (and in some states must be notarized), that doesn’t mean it can never change. In fact, it should change. You may want to plan to review your will every two to three years just to make sure it still accurately reflects your wishes.
If you choose not to review will on a schedule, you should review and consider updating your will after major life events such as:
Getting married — You might want to amend your will so that your spouse is your primary beneficiary, or you may simply want to include your spouse as one of your beneficiaries.
Having children — You may want to amend your will to include your children.
Bank account changes — If you have included a specific bank account as an asset in a previous version of your will and you close and/or open an account, you’ll want to update your will to reflect this.
Buying or selling a home or other property — Real estate property is a major asset and can be very valuable, so you’ll want to make sure that any property you own is accurately reflected in your will. If the value of your real estate changes over time, you may also want to consider updating your will as that could have an impact on the estate tax for which your loved ones.
Getting divorced or ending a relationship — Whether you are getting divorced or ended a major friendship or other relationship, you may want to change your will to remove a person who you no longer want to include as a beneficiary of your will.
Moving — Estate laws vary from state to state, so if you move to a different part of the country, you may want to consult a financial advisor and estate attorney in your new state.
Legal changes — Similarly, you may want to review your will with a financial advisor and estate attorney any time there are major changes to estate and inheritance laws.
Changes in personal interests or among beneficiaries — Many people choose to leave money or property to a charity they admire and want to support. However, if your interests or passions change, or the organization you’d initially chosen changes, you may want to select a different organization to give a gift.
Death of a beneficiary, executor, or trustee — Losing those you care about can be incredibly tough, and in the midst of mourning, we often forget about making administrative changes, like updating wills and other documents. But when the person you appointed to oversee your will and wishes dies, or you lose someone you had planned to leave something to, it is important to update your will.
A will isn’t the only document or future planning you might want to consider after a big life change like an illness or the loss of someone you had chosen to be your emergency contact or executor of your will.
Learning of an illness — If you are diagnosed with an illness or serious chronic condition, it’s important to make your health care treatment and end-of-life care wishes known to those close to you. This is crucial in the event that you are incapacitated and cannot advocate for your own wishes. If you are married, your spouse will typically automatically have the power to make decisions on your behalf.
However, whether or not you are married, you might want to consider creating a living will or an advance directive, writing a power of attorney, and/or appointing a health care proxy. A living will spells out the type of care that you do or don’t want — this can include whether or not you would want to be resuscitated or have extreme medical measures undertaken if you were in distress.
Writing a power of attorney or appointing a health care proxy ensures that a person you trust, and whom you’ve discussed your health care wishes with, will be able to make medical decisions on your behalf.
As with a will, you might want to review any of these documents after major life events, particularly if a major relationship changes.
The documents listed above are a really great place to start your end-of-life planning, but they don’t make up a complete roadmap for the people you’ll ultimately leave behind. From wishes for your funeral to buying a life insurance policy, Lantern has resources to guide you through making these important plans. Try out Trust & Will to get your documents started online.