What Should I Do with My Old Estate Planning Documents?

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We never know what life has in store for us: marriage, a new baby, divorce, moving to a new state. As your life changes, so should your estate planning documents. They need to be amended to reflect any major changes. So, what do you do with your old estate planning documents when you create updated ones?

Revoking an Estate Planning Document

When you update or create a new estate plan, like your online Will or Trust, the documents they are replacing need to be revoked. If not, costly and lengthy litigation can result among your surviving loved ones.  

You can’t just take a pen and scratch a line through the text or pages of an estate planning document to revoke it. Remember, estate planning documents are legally binding instruments. Their creation and revocation must follow your state’s laws.

Related: Estate Planning: Your Guide to Get Started, Conversations to Have, and More

Revoking an estate planning document can be done in three ways:

Make Changes to the Existing Will or Trust

If you make changes to your original Will, this becomes known as a codicil. Basically, it is a legal document that supplements your original Will with the changes you want to make. These changes could include deleting or adding a beneficiary, changing an executor, and adding or removing assets. In the case of amending a Trust, you would have to create an amendment form detailing the changes such as naming a new Trustee. You must add the codicil to the Will or the amendment form to the Trust. The new documents must be notarized in the presence of two witnesses or what your state law requires. When you create an online will with Gentreo, you don’t need a codicil to make changes – just create a new Will, get it notarized, and replace the one on file in your Gentreo Digital Family Vault.

Destroy the Old Documents

You can shred, burn, or tear to pieces the old documents you want to replace. Make sure this action is done in front of witnesses. The destroyed remnants should be properly disposed of. If the document is not destroyed in an appropriate manner, it could be challenged in court.

Create New Documents

If you create new estate planning documents, you must notate they are to supersede any previous documents. This can be done by including the statement, “This hereby revokes all prior Wills signed by me.” This effectively revokes the prior document. You need to make it clear the new document is a complete replacement for the original and not an amendment. If you are creating new documents, it’s best to destroy the old ones to avoid any confusion or legal issues.

Related: Why You May Want a Legal Review When Creating Your Online Estate Plan

Having an estate plan allows your wishes to be honored and protects your family. If you don’t have a Will, the state steps in and under the intestacy law, distributes your estate; despite how you wanted assets to be dispersed. People you may not want to have anything could inherit a windfall. This could leave loved ones heartbroken and cause a rift in the family.

When Should I Update My Estate Plan?

An estate plan is a not once and done deal. It needs to be reviewed and updated periodically. Here are some reasons to update your estate plan.

  • Acquiring or selling assets – If your Will specifies monetary amounts you are leaving to beneficiaries, any increase or decrease in your assets should trigger the need to update the document to reflect your current net worth. 
  • Death of a beneficiary – If a beneficiary you named in your Trust or Will has died, the name should be removed.

Related: Why You Should Update Your Documents After a Death in The Family

  • Divorce – If you fail to remove your divorced spouse’s name as a beneficiary from your Will, they could possibly receive any assets you originally bequeathed to him/her. 
  • Marriage – Your new spouse does not always automatically become an heir to your estate upon your passing. Laws vary by state and if you do not name your spouse as a beneficiary in your Will, he/she may receive only a portion of your assets. 
  • Moving to a new state – Each state has different laws regarding Wills. So, the new state you moved to may have different laws which could impact your estate plan.  

Related: Out-of-State Assets and Your Estate Plan

  • Birth/adoption of a child – Your new child should be named as a beneficiary in your Will or Trust. Also, you should name a guardian in your Will for your child in the event something happens to you. If grandchildren come into the picture, you may want to include them in your Will or set up a Trust.
  • Having a falling out with a beneficiary – Perhaps you have become estranged with one of your children or a loved one you named as a beneficiary. You may not want that person to inherit anything.

Gentreo Can Help You with Your Online Estate Plan

Gentreo has coaches and licensed estate planning attorneys at the ready to help guide you when you are creating or changing your estate plan. We have partnered with attorneys in each of the 50 states to give you state-specific information and guidance for your online Will and other documents. With Gentreo, you are never alone. We are with you through your life’s journey. 

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