People in California may have seen a recent editorial in Forbes about the common and potentially costly mistake many people make when it comes to estate planning and preparing a will. Many people relax after they have prepared and executed their will, but whether they know it or not, a simple change of circumstance could potentially render the best-laid plans null, or even direct that the assets go to the wrong person.
For this reason, people need to continuously watch and periodically update their will to ensure that the named beneficiaries are still valid. For example, people's legal names may change upon marriage or divorce, and if the will doesn't name these heirs properly, the result could be confusion and headaches for everyone. For example, if a person drafts a will land leaves assets to a business partner, if that business partner happens to die first, and the will is not updated to name another beneficiary, the distribution intended for the deceased falls into question. The distribution could go to another unintended party, or could be left in the hands of the probate court to decide.
Another example is a person who gets divorced and forgets to update the will. In California, generally the ex-spouse is removed from the will if the issue goes to probate. This might help in many cases, as most people probably do not intend to leave a substantial portion of their estate to an ex, but in the instance that a person does in fact want to leave assets to a divorced spouse, they need to update their will after the divorce in order to reflect this as a matter of law.
There are numerous other examples of why people need to be vigilant in updating their will. As a good rule of thumb, people should consider consulting with an estates and trusts attorney at least every couple of years and after any major life changes such as a divorce or death in the family.
Source: Forbes "The Big Estate-Planning Goof You May Be Making," Dec. 16, 2013