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Wills may have limited shelf life

Keeping wills locked away in a strongbox and forgotten may have unintended consequences. These documents must reflect current circumstances.

Marriage, divorce, birth of a child, death of relatives and other significant life events require review of the will. These may require the addition of new heirs, removal of existing heirs or changing the distribution of assets.

Moving in with another person is another important event. Even if they do not marry, a person should assure that their will reflects their intent to bequeath property to their partner after their death because laws protecting married spouses do not protect an unmarried couple.

Moving to a new state may require an update to assure that the will complies with the law of that state. Provisions should also be made for the care of any surviving pets.

Executors, trustees and guardians also experience important events such as becoming sick or disabled, marriage or incapacity which may restrict their ability to competently perform their duties. Their assignment and duties should be periodically reviewed to account for these changes.

For these reasons, trusts may also need adjustments. For example, trusts set up to support children until they reach a certain age become ineffective once they get older. Trusts may also need to be changed after beneficiaries marry, divorce or have grandchildren.

Changing tax laws also require review of these documents. The federal government, for example, recently doubled the estate tax exemption. The government also exempted $5.49 million of a person's estate from the 40 percent federal estate tax in 2017. It will also exempt $11.2 million of an estate from this tax in 2018.

Even without these developments, a will should be reviewed every three to five years. This helps ensure that its terms coincide with a person's wishes and their relationships.

Likewise, beneficiaries should be reviewed on bank accounts, retirement plans and insurance because beneficiaries may be paid regardless of who is named in the will. For example, life insurance benefits may unintentionally go to a former spouse if they are the named beneficiary on the policy.

An attorney can help assure that wills and other estate documents are carefully drafted and comply with Michigan law. Self-prepared wills may not reflect a person's intent and fully address complex and even routine matters.

Source: U.S, News and World Report, "4 times it makes sense to review your will," By Maryalene LaPonsie, March 30, 2018

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