For most people, Estate Planning will not be a one-time occurrence. Rather, it’s an ongoing process that evolves after certain major life events. Although everyone’s situation is different and there are many types of events that should trigger an Estate Planning review, here are nine of the most common we see in our practice here.

1. Marriage

In North Carolina, the average age for a first marriage is 29 for men and 27 for women. As people enter into marriage later in life, they already have assets and debts. Some will have children from a previous relationship.

In the hustle and bustle of joining households, it’s easy to let updating your Will fall through the cracks. However, you should take care of this as soon as possible so both you and your new spouse have peace of mind. Some issues to consider when reviewing your Estate Planning after getting married include:

  • If your spouse has children, how will they fit into your Estate Planning? Do you have plans to legally adopt your stepchildren?
  • Is there any conflict between your prenuptial agreement and your Will?
  • Do you and your spouse plan to have children together?

2. Birth or Adoption

If your family grows, either by birth or adoption, you will need to update your Will. This is especially important if you have a blended family or a child born as an unmarried couple, as you want your intentions for these beneficiaries to be clear.

There is never any guarantee that an heir won’t attempt to contest your Will after you pass away. However, the more explicit your intentions are, the easier it is to have your wishes carried out.

3. Divorce

In North Carolina, getting a divorce or an annulment does not make your existing Will invalid. What marriage dissolution does do, though, is automatically revoke any positions such as Executor, Trustee, Conservator, or Guardian that your Will bestowed on your former spouse.

The need for revocation is noteworthy for two reasons. The first is designating a new Executor, Trustee, etc., as soon as possible. Estate Planning will likely be one of the first things that your divorce attorney brings up, so you can address this issue right away.

The second reason is that some marriage dissolutions are more amicable than others. The legal end of a marriage may not necessarily mean that you want someone else to be your Executor or Guardian. If you want your former spouse to still hold these titles, you will need to specifically state that in your Will.

Your own divorce is not the only one that may trigger an Estate Planning review. If any of your beneficiaries get divorced, this could impact how you want your Estate to be distributed. For example, if your daughter and son-in-law are no longer together, you may not want him to inherit a family heirloom.

4. Serious Illness or Injury

Some people don’t think about Estate Planning until they receive a medical diagnosis or face major surgery. If you faced a serious health issue, you may have created a handwritten Will “just in case” and stashed it away. Under certain circumstances, North Carolina does consider handwritten Wills, which are officially called “Holographic Wills,” to be valid.

However, you can imagine the questions and issues that may arise with a handwritten Will. In your time of crisis, you may have overlooked important aspects. Estate Planning is a complex matter that should be done with a lawyer’s guidance and oversight.

5. Death

If your spouse or a beneficiary passes away before you do, you will need to update your Will. It is difficult to lose someone close to you, but this is a detail that you shouldn’t overlook.  An outdated Will can create confusion and disputes within your family, at a time that additional stress is the last thing you or they need.

6. Your Assets or Liabilities Change

Any time there is a major change in your assets or your debts, your Will should be updated. Changes that may affect your Estate Planning include:

  • You purchase a new home or a vacation property.
  • You sell or give away an item that was included in your Will: art collection, vehicles, jewelry, etc.
  • Your debts change, such as you acquire a new mortgage, or you open a business.

Any time that you inherit cash or property, you definitely want to consider how you want to pass those assets on.

7. You Move to a New State

If you are moving to North Carolina, or if you’re moving out of the state, your new state’s laws may affect your Estate Planning. Prior to moving, you should have an attorney who is licensed in your new state review your Will and other related documents.

Be aware that there are nine states that currently have community property laws: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. How these states view marital property and debts is different than North Carolina law.

8. A Beneficiary is Incarcerated

You want your beneficiary to fully enjoy any assets you leave them and being incarcerated could interfere with that. These factors may impact your Estate Planning:

  • Whether the beneficiary is serving time in a state prison or a federal prison.
  • How long the prison sentence is, and the likelihood that the person will serve that entire time.
  • If the person is or could be held liable for someone’s death or injury. In other words, could they be sued for a substantial sum?

If your loved one is incarcerated, it does not necessarily mean that they cannot or should not inherit anything, however, you should proceed carefully. This is a complex situation, but there are ways to provide an inheritance to an inmate, including Trusts or assets other than cash.

9. You Have a Change of Heart

People and circumstances change over time. You may have a change of heart about your Executor, one of your beneficiaries, or any number of other items in your Estate Planning. It’s well within your rights to update your Estate Plan as you see fit as your life situation changes.

Our Estate Planning Team Can Help

Whether it’s a simple Estate Plan change, or whether you’re designing an Estate Plan from scratch to protect your family after your death, the team at McCollum Law can help. We have helped families just like yours with Wills, Trusts, Advance Directives, and more. Call us today or at 919-861-4120 or fill out our online form to schedule a consultation with our team!