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Getting the Last Word

Let’s say you made a will years ago, when your kids were small. Named guardians for them. Split everything equally among them. But it’s old.

Is it still valid?

Yes.

But is it outdated?

Probably.

Things change. Maybe the person you named as executor died, or is no longer a trusted individual. Maybe your estate is worth a lot more than you ever dreamed and you want to avoid some taxes, or add some charities to the list of beneficiaries. Perhaps a child died and has left grandchildren who need to be included.

You’ve been told by others that you need to put everything in a trust to avoid probate. Not necessarily. You’ve been told that wills expire. They don’t.

But if they become outdated, that can cause problems with executing it once you’re gone, says Kenneth Keene, a Colorado Springs attorney who specializes in estate law.
“You need to ask yourself, ‘Have circumstances changed?’” and then decide if your will needs updating, he says. A very simple will may not need changes – some aspects naturally expire, such as the need for guardians once your children attain adulthood.

It’s a good idea to review your will periodically with your lawyer, says attorney Stan Kent.

“Your estate planning goals can change,” possibly to reflect current or changing tax laws, he adds.

Keene says many people get a letter in the mail offering to buy them dinner if they’ll listen to a talk about revocable living trusts. There’s an entire industry devoted to this practice, he says. But be wary of the pitch, because “they’re really just trying to sell you a product” – a very expensive one – one you may not need.

Keene says that the idea of “probate” has been given a bad, and undeserved, rap.

“Colorado is one of 15 states that have a very simple probate process,” he says. It’s pretty quick and painless.
Some people think if they have made a will in another state, then moved to Colorado, they need to make a new will. That’s also not true, Keene says. And the will won’t be probated in their former state, but here in Colorado.

What about online wills?

“Any piece of paper that’s in a person’s handwriting is a valid will,” Keene says. If you do one online, it probably won’t address all your specific concerns, but if it’s signed by the maker with two witnesses or a notary public for verification, it’s legal.

“The piece that’s missing is advice,” Kent says. And a good will should include flexibility – something not usually offered in online versions.
“I’ve yet to see an (online) program that covers everything,” Keene adds.

As for a living will (detailing your wishes, medically speaking), it’s a separate document, but a good one to have, they say. And everyone should also have a document naming both a financial and a medical power of attorney, as well as a document regarding the disposition of your remains. That way, the family can’t argue about whether to bury you or cremate you.

You get the last word. Literally.