Can you actually force your spouse to update their will?

When people come to you with this question, the main question usually is, when should I be updating my will? And the simple rule of thumb is when there's been a major event is when it's probably a good time for you to update your will. So, for example,

  • If you get married, it's usually a good time to update your will;
  • If you have children;
  • If your children graduate college;
  • When your children get married;
  • If you have grandchildren; or
  • If you're moving to an entirely different state.

These are all good reasons for you to consider updating your estate plan.

Now, these major life decisions don't always make you have a new estate plan. For example, you can have an estate plan that you create when your child is young, and that can be good for another 30 or 40 years. It doesn't become invalid because of these major life events. But you may miss out on advantages you can take by updating your estate plan when one of these big events happens.

So for example, when you get married, we want to make sure that your estate plan is updated to reflect that you now have a spouse, especially in the healthcare document field. You want to make sure that your spouse if you want them to can make major medical decisions for you if you become incapacitated for some reason. Now, if we look at children, whether children are born, whether they graduate college, whether they get married, all these major events with the children can have an effect on your estate plan. When they're born, we want to make sure we're adding them to your will and we want to add a guardianship provision as well and a trustee provision as well. So that if something happens to you and your spouse and your child is under the age of 18, we know they're protected. Once those children now graduate from college or they're done with their education, they're adults. Now we may not need we definitely don't need the guardianship provision if they're over 18. And we may not need a trustee provision either however, some people will actually hold that money back and have the trustee be in charge of that money until the child hits the age of 25 or 30. You don't have to do it that way. But that's something to consider when that child finishes their education.

When your children get married, you want to look at whether now is a good time to update this estate plan? If you had certain bequests going to them now let's go into them as a married couple. You may have different reasons for giving them money at that point. And then of course grandchildren are born. That's a great time for you to relook at your estate plan. There are a lot of advantages you can take. There are advantages you can take using an estate plan and even leaving money to record your grandchildren. You can leave a legacy another generation down the line from where you are right now. And then of course, if you're moving, the question is how far are you moving? If you're moving down the street, you don't necessarily have to update your estate plan. If you're moving to a new state, though, you want to make sure you're at least meeting with an attorney in the new state to find out if there would be any advantage to updating your state plan to a local estate plan that local will be where you are. It probably will be helpful when it comes to healthcare documents though, because each state has its own forms.

The Elective Share

Depending upon what state you're in, your state may have what's called an elective share. The elective share is a statute that says if a spouse does explicitly not leave any money to their other spouse when they die in their Will, the surviving spouse can actually go to the court and elect for a portion of the estate. It can be up to 50%. In some states, it can be other provisions. Some states have a table of what you can actually inherit.

Beneficiary Designations

Another option to consider when looking at updates is your beneficiary designations. So even if you have a will, a simple way to update your estate planning documents is to make sure your beneficiary designations are up to date. So if you get married, you can now add your spouse as your primary beneficiary. Let's say you have kids with another big change you can now make them your secondary and your third beneficiary, your grandkids can be a third-level beneficiary. But when we do have beneficiary designations, they're gonna pass outside the terms of the will. So that if you're really worried about updating that will, but most of the assets are things like life insurance and retirement accounts of beneficiaries.

Your Will may not be the thing you're really concerned about updating and maybe you want to make sure your beneficiary designations are updated.

Next Steps

Talk to your local attorney about whether it's a good time for you to update your estate plan. If that spouse of yours won't go with you, go to the meeting, meet with them, get all of the information and that attorney can probably give you three or four good reasons why your spouse should update their estate plan immediately. And if you move into a new state and you aren't sure whether your oldest state plan is going to be good or your newest or you need a new one and sit down with a local attorney. If you're ready to get started, let's set up a Legal Strategy Session, we can set up a 15 or 20-minute phone call to discuss the best options for you and your family. We may not be able to force that spouse of yours to sign the documents, but we can probably do everything short of dragging them to the office kicking and screaming and putting a piece of paper in front of them and making them sign it.

Andrew Ayers
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I work with business and estate planning clients to craft legal solutions to protect their legacies.