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How Often Should I Update My Will in Virginia?

Nathan R. Olansen
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For individuals with substantial assets, the intricacies of estate planning become increasingly complex. Wealth, accumulated through years of strategic endeavors, demands precise management to oversee its appropriate allocation after one’s passing. An outdated or inadequate estate plan can pose significant risks. Legal complications may arise, potentially causing disputes among beneficiaries during an already challenging time, resulting in wasted assets and a diminished inheritance for your beneficiaries.

Additionally, without an updated and comprehensive estate strategy, significant tax liabilities may reduce the estate’s overall value, detracting from the intended benefits for heirs. Consulting with a Virginia estate planning attorney at Midgett Preti Olansen can help organize and craft an estate plan that fits your needs, such as asset distribution in accordance with your current wishes and minimizing tax liabilities.

Circumstances for Updating Your Will in Virginia

Making your estate plan a priority includes regularly reviewing and updating your will every time new circumstances and life changes take place. These circumstances might include the following.

Change in Family Dynamics

Following any change in your family dynamics, update your will as soon as possible so loved ones stay protected.

Throughout your lifetime, your family situation will change. These situations include marriage, divorce, the passing of a loved one, or an addition to the family, whether through birth or adoption. As such, you will want to reconsider the provisions of your estate plan and beneficiary designations.

For example, a life event such as becoming a grandparent can add a desire to provide for those new grandchildren in the future. Perhaps you divorce and remarry, and this new marriage includes stepchildren. If you wish to provide for those stepchildren after your passing, you will need to update your will to include them specifically because Virginia law does not consider them your “children” when it comes to legal inheritance.

Diminished Relationships

Relationships can change through the years, and when they become diminished, it is time to reconsider your will and overall estate plan. Changes will need to be made should you have a falling out with somebody listed as a beneficiary and you no longer want them to receive any of your assets. Also, if the person you designate as your executor is one of the diminished relationships, it will be imperative that you choose a new one for your will to be sure your wishes are adhered to upon your death.

Moved or Acquired Assets Out of State

Moving to a new state requires that you review your will to be sure it meets all the legal requirements for your new state of residence. Probate laws differ by state, and it is recommended that you seek a consultation and legal advice from an experienced estate attorney to determine whether your current will continue to be valid.

Another reason to consult with an estate attorney is if, while living in Virginia, you purchase out-of-state real estate. You will want to confirm that this new property is properly titled and included in your estate plan and the overall disposition of your assets.

Taxes and Your Finances

Other circumstances, such as a change in the tax laws or in your personal financial situation, may also occur. We recommend a prompt review of a will and other estate planning documents in these instances to make sure the estate plan still accomplishes your goals and will not result in adverse tax consequences or unintended changes in the distribution of your assets.

In the event you are unsure whether an update to your will or other estate planning documents may be in order, it is ideal to contact a Virginia Beach estate planning attorney for a consultation. A codicil, new will, or other updated documents may or may not be needed, but having your documents reviewed in either case should bring greater peace of mind.

two people looking over a document at desk with notepad and calculator

How Do I Update or Change a Will in Virginia?

When you update or change your current will, you may need to have certain documents at the ready. These may include a codicil, though this type of document should be used sparingly.

The codicil, a legal document to serve as a supplement to your original will, prevents you from having to recreate and validate an entirely new will. While legally valid in Virginia when signed by the testator in front of two witnesses, codicils are separate legal documents and can be lost or misplaced over time and fail to serve as intended.

If you are looking to change your will, it is advisable to contact your estate planning attorney to see the best way to accomplish this. Depending on how much time you have and the particular circumstances, your attorney at Midgett Preti Olansen can advise you on an appropriate course of action.

How Do I Revoke My Will in Virginia?

If an existing will is to be revoked, it must be done through the proper process and completed prior to the death of the person whose will it is. It is important to note that a will does not expire or lose its legal validity in the Commonwealth of Virginia unless you, the testator, personally take the steps to revoke it.

Revocation of a Virginia will can be accomplished in different ways, including the destruction of that will and any codicil. One can also execute a new will and include a provision stating that any and all prior wills be revoked. The wording of this provision will be crucial, as it can revoke only part of a former will or codicil and create inconsistencies that a court will have to review and make a determination as to what stands.

What Are the Rules for Wills in Virginia?

While the provisions of a will can differ for each person, there are certain rules pertaining to execution in Virginia that must be followed by everyone. In particular, you must be over the age of eighteen in order to sign a will, and you must do so in front of two witnesses and a notary.

You must also execute what is called a self-proving affidavit, a document that attaches to your last will and testament. This affidavit must include witnesses, and its purpose is to attest to your testamentary capacity and to the assigned witnesses.

What Are the Complications of Changing an Estate Plan in Virginia?

Initiating a change to an estate plan in Virginia can bring with it particular complications. Anytime there is a significant change in the way the testator’s assets are to be distributed, there is a possibility of dissent.

For example, if a parent initially prepares to leave their assets in equal shares to all three of their children and then suddenly makes a change to leave everything to just one or two of them, dissension can arise among family members. Perhaps the parent provided oral directions to the beneficiaries that now conflict with what is actually in the legal document. Family members may also have access to multiple unsigned versions of a will or trust with different provisions, and this can add to such arguments.

In other circumstances, an older person may make a change to a will or other estate planning document, potentially giving rise to claims of incapacity or undue influence. Such an allegation can especially occur if that older person was brought to the attorney’s office by one family member or agent under a power of attorney.

Complications can also arise if you make changes on your own by writing directly on the executed will or trust or by adding some kind of handwritten codicil or amendment. Both of these can potentially lead to claims challenging the validity and/or interpretation of the changes.

Why Do I Need an Estate Plan?

Regardless of your current age, you need an estate plan so that there is clear instruction on what happens to your Virginia estate should something happen to you. You also need a plan so that you can outline how your estate will be divided. In other words, it is in your power to determine who your beneficiaries will be and also provide protection for loved ones. If you have minor children or family members with special needs, you can plan for them and gain peace of mind.

If you need another reason, consider that having an estate plan can also help minimize your estate and probate taxes. An attorney knowledgeable in tax law will be able to explain the requirements and how to implement them for your plan.

Without a valid will in place (intestacy), the state and courts will get to determine how your assets are to be distributed, and this may not align with your wishes. The probate process can be long and require numerous expenses. By planning now, you can minimize the time and costs required through the probate process and also maintain your family’s privacy.

It is essential to note, however, that having an estate plan is more than just one document. Often, these estate planning documents include trusts, power of attorney, a will, and more, depending upon your particular assets and circumstances. Speak with an experienced Virginia estate planning attorney to determine your needs and get started today.

pregnant woman smiling and reviewing document

Acquired New Assets and Looking to Include Them in Your Will?

Establishing an estate plan requires that you constantly review and update the various documents should something change in your life. If you have acquired new assets and are looking to include them in your will, contact the law firm of Midgett Preti Olansen today to schedule a consultation.

We value thoughtful attorney-client relationships and will always maintain your privacy, so reach out to us today by calling 757-687-8888 or using the online contact form. Our law office is located in Virginia Beach, and we serve all of the Hampton Roads area, including Norfolk, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Hampton, Newport News, and Eastern Shore.

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Written By Nathan R. Olansen

Shareholder

Nathan R. Olansen is a Shareholder in the law firm of Midgett Preti Olansen. His practice is focused on estate planning, probate and trust administration, IRS and state and local tax audit and tax collection cases, as well as individual and entity tax planning, asset protection and a variety of related transactional matters.

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