Most local residents understand that a New York estate plan needs to be updated to account for changing life circumstances. If one is divorced, has a child, has a falling out with a relative, acquires a significant asset, or experiences countless other life changes, then planning documents need to be altered to take that into account.
Unfortunately, some are under the mistaken assumption that this is a very simple, straightforward process involving some changes to a will. Our New York estate planning attorneys appreciate that this sort of thinking often leads to serious problems down the road. Failure to take a full range of issues--beyond a will--into account following life changes may mean one's plans do not work as desired when the time comes.
For example, the Alternative Press shared an interesting story about a man who wanted to remove a daughter from an inheritance. However, the man only updated his will (and nothing else). The result was the that daughter still received almost half of the man's estate
The man in this case had a some sort of falling out with his daughter. He passed away and left a will that included express language indicating that the daughter was being left out intentionally. He was likely under the assumption that being so explicit in his will meant that the daughter would not receive anything, as was his wish.
The reason was that, like many local residents, the man had many "non probate" assets that passed to another automatically, outside of the will. In this case, the father had previously named the daughter as beneficiary of a substantial IRA, several "pay on death" bank accounts, and a life insurance policy. None of those designations were changed after the falling out. Therefore, upon the father's death those assets went to the daughter directly, irrespective of the man's wishes indicated in his will.
Each New York estate planning attorney at our firm works with local residents to explain the fundamental difference between probate and non-probate property. In fact, much of our work involves helping avoid the probate process altogether, ensuring that families do not have to deal with complex, uncertain, and lengthy court proceedings to settle an estate. However, taking advantage of probate alternatives--usually in the form of trusts--means that it is particularly critical to update plans accordingly to account for life changes. Simply editing of a will is insufficient. Assets held in trust, beneficiary designations, and jointly owned property must all be considered when updated the plan to ensure everything is in place when the time comes.
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