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Can a new life circumstance automatically change my will?

On Behalf of | Jul 19, 2022 | Estate And Trust Administration, Estate Planning

Pennsylvanians are advised to create an estate plan to protect themselves and their loved ones. Many will opt for the simplest possible choice and create a will. While this is positive as it avoids dying intestate and leaving the property at the mercy of the law, it can present problems if it is not updated as the person—also referred to as the testator—experiences life changes. If the person got married, divorced or had a child, this will constitute a modification by circumstances. People might not be aware of this law or what it means.

Marriage, divorce, birth or adoption will automatically modify a will

If a person created a will and subsequently gets married without updating the will on their own, state law will change it to provide a portion of the estate for the spouse. The spouse will receive a share of the estate they would have gotten had the testator died without having a will at all.

The surviving spouse’s share would vary based on intestate laws. If, for example, there were no other decedents, the spouse would get the entire estate. There are cases where the testator was not yet married but the will appears to give the prospective spouse more than they would get in an intestate case. This will need to be considered.

When there is a divorce or a pending divorce and it is not addressed in the will, any property that would have gone to the spouse at the time would no longer be in effect unless the will says that the person should still get a portion of the estate.

With a child being born or an adoption taking place and the testator did not provide for the child after completing the will, it will be assessed to determine if it was an intentional omission. If not, the child will get a property that does not go to the spouse based on intestate laws.

Estate planning complexities can be explained and addressed with legal guidance

Even if a person has written a will or used another type of estate planning option, there can still be complications that should be considered. Failing to update a will when life changes occur can cause problems that are solved through automatic modifications. Some might accept these automatic changes.

Others may not. To understand this aspect of the law and know how to handle them, it is imperative to consult with experienced professionals to be fully prepared for every eventuality.

Pennsylvania Bar Association

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