Updating will after major life changes can be important

by | Feb 26, 2014 | Wills |

Sometimes, after a person has a will in place, they experience a major change in their life, such as: a marriage, a birth of a child or a drastic shift in their financial circumstances. Such changes can give rise to significant estate planning concerns, and it can be important, in the wake of such changes, to look into updating one’s will to address these concerns. Estate planning attorneys can answer questions about what impacts a certain major life change could have in regards to a will and estate plan and can help individuals with the will updating process.

When a person fails to update a will in connection to major life changes, complications can sometimes arise upon their death. This can be seen in a potential problem that has recently been identified by Forbes regarding the will of recently deceased actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Hoffman’s will, which was signed in 2004, gives his entire estate to Marianne O’Donnell. Hoffman and O’Donnell had been in a long-term relationship, but never got married.

When the will was signed, O’Donnell and Hoffman had one child, a son. One option the will gives O’Donnell is to turn down some or all of the inheritance and have the turned down proceeds transferred into a trust. Under the will’s terms, if O’Donnell uses this disclaimer option, the above-mentioned son is entitled to half of the trust’s principal when he turns 25 and the rest when he reaches 30. The point of disclaimer options like this one is to give individuals who are granted an inheritance greater flexibility to address things like estate tax issues.

It is in regards to this disclaimer option that the potential problem arises. Following the signing of the will, O’Donnell and Hoffman had two more children, two daughters. However, Hoffman never made updates to the will to include them in its language. This gives rise to a question: if O’Donnell exercises the disclaimer option, will the son be the only one entitled to the trust’s principle or will adjustments be made to accommodate the two daughters? New York has rules in place aimed at addressing problems that come up when a parent doesn’t update a will after having additional children, but what effect such rules have can vary quite a bit based on the circumstances. Thus, complex legal issues could come up if O’Donnell ultimately decides to exercise the disclaimer option.

Source: Forbes, “Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Will Raises Legal Problems,” Deborah L. Jacobs, Feb. 20, 2014