If you have created a will, you are to be commended. After all, such a small number of people take the time to make any kind of plan that many families face the confusion of probate without knowing what their loved ones wanted for their estates.

While many state statutes guide the courts is the distribution of assets, each family situation is unique. If you have special people in your life who are not immediate relatives — or if you have immediate relatives who are not among the people you want to benefit from your estate — a will is a crucial document. Nonetheless, life changes quickly, and the plans you had in mind when you executed your will may be very different from what you want now.

A will doesn’t change itself

You and your family likely did what many other families do at the end of the past year. Looking back to where you were the year before and recounting the ways your family has changed in the past 12 months is a common New Year activity. You may find that few years go by without a life event that changes the dynamic of your family. These events are excellent times to review and revise your will, for example:

  • You married, divorced or remarried: You wouldn’t want to inadvertently keep your ex-spouse as your primary beneficiary or omit your new spouse from your will.
  • You welcome a child, step-child or grandchild into the family. If you neglect to include younger siblings in a will that already includes older children, you may leave behind confusion and hurt feelings.
  • You move to another state: Every state has different laws regarding powers of attorney, estate taxes and other important matters that you may have in your will.
  • Your spouse dies. This sorrowful event also may carry important tax implications and affect the overall value of your estate.

The first few months of a new year is the time to take stock and plan for changes. If it has been a while since you visited your will, you may benefit from some professional advice. In addition to addressing life changes that may influence alterations in your existing document, you may find it is time to consider other appropriate tools that can meet your needs and allow you to leave behind the generous gift of a well-planned estate.