Life Changes Can Result In Unintended Consequences, Even For Those With Wills
An essay entitled “second-chance family” caught my eye last year.
It was written by a woman named Kate Simonson, who had been adopted as an infant. She lost her father to a work accident when she was just three years old. Her mother raised Kate and her younger brother, Jason, until she died suddenly of a brain aneurysm when Kate was 17 and Jason was 15.
Even though they had extended family, none of the family members stepped forward to take them in, all with valid excuses. Her grandfather was too old to assume responsibility for them. One of her aunts had three children of her own and was not able to take care of any more. And their mother’s other two siblings were both single and worked long hours.
Kate’s mother did everything right – or so it seemed. After all, she had a will, and even had the foresight to name a guardian in that will for her children. But over the years, she had neglected to update it. And the guardian she had nominated in her will was a former babysitter who Kate and Jason had not seen in 15 years.
For many months, Kate and Jason lived in limbo. They lived in their mother’s house, supported by their mother’s kind ex-boyfriend, Mike Fieseler, who made sure they had food and the house was maintained.
Their extended family could not reassure them. They were told that if they remained without a guardian they would be forced to enter foster care.
Thankfully, Kate and Jason’s story ends well. Mike Fieseler adopted both of them, giving her a “second-chance family.”
Why Once Is Not (Necessarily) Enough When It Comes to Your Will
Kate’s story is a perfect example of why estate plans should be kept current. Kate’s mother had obviously gotten her will drafted many years before but had not modified it for many years.
If she had reviewed her will, for example, she probably would have nominated a different person to serve as guardian for her children. In doing so, she would have helped Kate and Jason avoid feelings of abandonment and stress as the wondered who would take care of them after their mother’s death.
Kate and Jason were teenagers. Imagine how much more tragic this would have been if they were younger.
When Should I Revise My Will or Estate Plan?
As your family grows and changes, it is important to review your estate plan regularly to make sure your estate planning goals and objectives are still being met.
While there are no hard and fast rules about how often you should review your estate plan, the following life changes may trigger a need to do so:
- A change in your marital status
- An addition to your family, either by birth, adoption or marriage
- A substantial change in the value of your assets or in your plan
for their use
- A move to another state
- Impending retirement
- Changes in the tax code
- The simple passage of time
Your estate plan is something that should change as your life does. Otherwise it can become a set of outdated documents that don’t accomplish your estate planning goals or protect the people that matter most…the family you leave behind.