Do I need to update my will every time I move?

This is a pretty common question I get from my clients, usually within a year or two after they sign their estate plan, that it's time to move and if I move do I need to update all my documents? Now, unfortunately, I've got to give you the typical lawyer's answer, which is it depends. So in some cases, we do need to update your documents, and in others, you're probably okay.

The way we're going to look at this is really to look at first of all, how far are you moving? So if you're just moving down the street in your hometown, then chances are you may not really need to update your state plan. You may need to make an amendment here or there. But if you're moving to a completely different state, chances are you do either need to update your state plan or make sure you're talking to an attorney in that state to find out what kind of benefits you could have from using the state plan. In that state versus your former state's estate plan.

Moving Locally

So first, let's look at a local. So normally, if you're just moving down the street, you don't need to update your estate plan or overhaul the entire estate. So for example, if you're still within the same state, the same laws will apply if something happens to you it'd be the same probate court in the same jurisdiction. These statewide laws are not necessarily county-specific. So just moving down the street or moving a town over doesn't mean that you need to update your estate plan automatically.

However, if in your estate plan documents you specifically list your residence, let's say 123 Main Street, and your Will says I hereby bequest 123 Main Street to my cousin Sally. In that case, you would need to amend your will because when you move to a new address, let's say 234 Smith Street, that 123 Main Street won't be distributed under your will.

This is where my clients get nervous because we spend a lot of time putting together our estate plan documents and it's a planned-out process with a focus on all the details. They are worried that they have to do a whole new estate plan, and go through the whole process again. In that case, you could simply do a codicil to your Will, which is a fancy term for an amendment to a Will, if that specific bequest that 123 Main Street is in your trust, the same principle, we don't have to do what's called restating your entire trust. We only have to do an amendment to the trust and we can swap out one property for the next.

If you've got a trust, and the trust owns the property, we want to make sure that when we sell 123 Main Street and purchase 234 Smith Street, that we're doing all the correct paperwork for that trust. We don't want to forget to get the i's dotted or not crossing the t's when it comes to that kind of situation. But again, if we're just moving down the street, let's say you rent your apartment and move three doors down, chances are you don't have to update all your state plan documents.

One document you may want to look at will be your healthcare documents. So if your healthcare power of attorney has a personal address in it, you may want to update that address just so that the doctors had the new address in the file. But you don't have to necessarily do it the first day. The doctors can still find you there's a phone and other contact information. So for looking at a local move, you may or may not remember, but it's probably a small moment unless we have a specific request.

Moving to Another State

Now for moving to an entirely different state, you may need an entirely new estate plan. So for example, for a lot of my New York clients, when they move to California, my first bit of advice is to talk to a local attorney in California about whether or not you need a new estate plan because New York and California have very different property regimes. They have very different ways that they handle people's estate. They're very different forms and very different documents.

When you create your documents, let's say you have a Will that's in New York and then you move to Missouri. If you die in Missouri with a New York Will, it's still valid, and everything is fine. But what you may be missing is there may be different forms of distributions that can be done in different ways in Missouri, the probate court works differently than the New York courts work, so it makes sense to meet with a local attorney and find out whether or not you can take advantage of that new state's laws when you move to a different state. And this is a very state-specific thing. I can't give you a straight 50-state answer other than if you're moving to a new state, the best course of action is to pay for that hour of time, sit down with an attorney in the new state and say here's my current state plan, should it be updated now that I live in this new state?

You also want to look at whether your new state has state forms that you have that you would be able to use, especially in the healthcare and the power of attorney areas. These powers of attorney can often have state-specific forms when I drafted for my clients, we will often use a more generic form that can be used across state borders, but many times the specific state and those doctors in those banks in that state who want you to use a very specific form. In that case, it makes sense to meet with that local attorney to find out what are the forms look like and if is it easier just to update those forms. Or can I use those forms from my old state?

Next Steps

So you can try to do all this yourself. But this is definitely an area where I think you need to make sure you're talking to professionals. If you're moving to an entirely different state that may have a totally different property regime, it's not going to make sense for you to spend hours online trying to research and figure out whether it makes sense to have a will in the new state or will in the old state or what do we have to do with our trust. So meet with a professional. If you talk to your financial advisor and you're moving to a new state, they probably even have an attorney that you can talk to. But if you're ready to get started and you have more questions, you can set up a Legal Strategy Session, a 15 or 20-minute phone call to discuss where you are in the process, maybe where you're moving and what are good questions to ask. Maybe you're moving to a state where I don't practice law. We can try to find you a local attorney. there that you can speak with, and at least give you some highlights so that you know the best options for protecting you and your family with your planning documents.

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