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  • Writer's pictureNicole J. Zuvich

Updating a will when getting remarried in New York

Updated: Sep 27, 2022

In Long Island and throughout New York City, creating an estate plan is important for everyone. This is especially true for people who have been lucky in life and accumulated substantial assets. For many, a will is their document of choice to ensure their property goes where they want it to after death. Whether it is a business, retirement accounts, investment portfolios, real estate, collectibles and sentimental items, detailing how these will be distributed and to whom is a fundamental part of a comprehensive estate plan. However, even after a will is complete, life changes can require it being updated. One example of when a will needs to be updated is if a person remarries.

Understanding the law for changing or revoking a will

A will can be changed via what is called a “codicil.” The codicil is an addition to a standing will and allows changes to be made without needing to rewrite the entire document. This is generally sufficient if a person is getting remarried. In some cases, the person might want to write an entirely new will. Under the law, the person – the testator – can also revoke or alter a will by creating another will or putting it in writing that the will is revoked or altered. To revoke a will, it can simply be destroyed in any way. Tearing it to shreds or burning it are examples. This may be done by the testator or another person who has been directed to destroy it at the testator’s behest with two witnesses separate from the person who destroyed it being present. The changes to the will can also be made orally (nuncupative) or in a handwritten declaration (holographic). There must also be witnesses for this to be done legally. Once a will is revoked, its codicils are also revoked.

Updating a will in the context of remarriage

A remarriage may lead to dispute and disagreement among prospective heirs who believe that it might negatively impact them in the estate plan. The testator should be prepared for this by updating the will accordingly. Beneficiaries will inevitably change with a new marriage. For example, the former spouse might be named and receive certain items that he or she will no longer get after the remarriage. A home could be one such property. Also, people tend to forget to update retirement accounts and insurance policies.

It is not uncommon for a testator to die and the former spouse is still named on these accounts. This can happen even if the will was updated. Therefore, it is imperative to remember to update all accounts in addition to the will because most retirement accounts and life insurance policies will be awarded to the person named regardless of what the will says. For those who start a new family in the remarriage, this too requires that a will be updated. Some even make the mistake of not having a will at all with a litany of potential heirs and beneficiaries. This will be a major source of discord that should be avoided.

Updating an estate plan may require guidance and advice

People may tend to avoid creating a will, a trust or other estate planning documents because it reminds them of the inevitable. Still, creating and updating an estate plan is a positive step and should not be viewed in a negative light. In what should be a happy time of remarrying and starting a new life, updating a will is a crucial aspect that should not be ignored. This is for the good of everyone in the family and can help with preventing disputes that take time, cost money and ruin relationships. Having assistance with these vital documents and decisions is key and it should be done as soon as possible to be fully shielded.

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