18 Aug My will is old. Do I need to get a new one?
Q. I’ve had the same will since my children became adults about 12 years ago. Nothing has changed except that I have grandchildren, but they are only successor beneficiaries should something happen to their parents. A friend’s wife died and he had trouble with some financial companies who said her will was too old. Is this a real thing and do I need a new will? Why?
— Planning ahead
A. We’re glad you’re asking.
It’s always smart to review your estate planning documents before it’s too late.
The fact that a will is old does not, in and of itself, invalidate the will, nor should it be rejected by a financial institution solely due to its age, said Tom Szieber, a trusts and estates attorney at Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi in West Orange.
“If the will is successfully admitted to probate, then there is no reason that its age should be an issue,” he said. “In general, a financial institution is not involved in the probate process nor is it responsible for determining whether a will is valid. That is the responsibility of the probate court.”
You say the only change since your last will was executed is that your children now have children of their own who are successor beneficiaries.
Your will may already account for afterborn descendants if it provides for distributions to a child’s descendants or issue “per stirpes” — a common estate planning term that is Latin for “by roots,” Szieber said.
In that case, a grandchild will inherit in the place of your child who is the grandchild’s parent if the child is deceased at the time the child would have taken under your will or a trust under the will, he said.
In the event of such a child’s death, then as long as the provisions of the existing will reflect your current wishes, you do not necessarily need a new one, he said.
However, it is important to at least review your will every few years to ensure that changes in life circumstances or changes in tax law do not render specific provisions outdated, Szieber said. That could include events such as deaths, births, marriages, divorces and acquisitions of new assets.
Szieber said changes in the law, particularly in the tax area, can have major implications on one’s estate plan.
For example, he said, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (TCJA) increased the unified gift/estate tax exemption from $5.490 million to more than $11 million. The exemption is indexed for inflation and is $12.06 million.
However, he said, that exemption will sunset to pre-TCJA levels — roughly $6.5 million — on Jan. 1, 2026, and is prone to changes due to congressional action.
“Such changes can vastly alter a person’s estate plan,” he said. “You would be wise to have an experienced estate planning attorney review your current will to ensure it accomplishes all of your planning objectives.”
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This story was originally published on Aug. 18, 2022.
NJMoneyHelp.com presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.