The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 13, 2012

THOMAS YOUNG | If family changes, review your will

Thomas Young
For The Tribune-Democrat

— I have been asked if it is necessary to review a simple will every year or two.

In most cases, I would say no. If the named executor is still alive and in good health, if the beneficiaries are still alive and in good health, and if the will still does what you want it to do, it probably does not need to be reviewed, at least not each year.

If there have been changes in the family, such as a divorce, the birth of a new child, a marriage, a substantial increase in assets or even just a change in attitude between family members, then the document should be reviewed with your attorney.

While many clients realize that a birth or a death is something to consider, most don’t know that the effect of ignoring some family changes can be catastrophic.

As an illustration, let’s assume a young single woman with living parents. She’s accumulated some wealth and makes a will leaving her wealth to her parents, or the survivor of them. Years later, the young woman marries. She means to change her will, but doesn’t get around to it.

The law will revoke her will for her – not a complete revocation, just enough to give her husband the share he would have received if she had no will.

The excess will go to the parents.

Now, let’s suppose further that the woman has a child after her marriage. Now the law says her assets will be distributed to her husband and her child, despite the fact that neither of them is named in her will.

I once had such a case.

 The lady’s mother was alive, but her father was dead. When the young lady died, she was married with children. Her only will, made before marriage, left everything to her parents. I had to explain to the surviving mother that she would take nothing under the will, but that everything would go to her daughter’s husband and children.

The important aspect is, of course, the order of events. The will comes first, then the marriage, then the birth. If the woman had written a will after marriage leaving everything to her mother, then the husband would have to elect against the will to get his share.

The above rules are mandated by the Legislature, but the intent is clear. Lawmakers have assumed that if the decedent had taken the time to redo the will, that provisions would have been made first for the husband, and later for the child.

When in doubt, call your attorney.

Thomas Young, a graduate of Pitt and Harvard Law School, has been a lawyer in Johnstown since 1958. He is a former professor of business law at Pitt-Johnstown. Readers may send questions to Young in care of The Tribune-Democrat. The opinions expressed in this column are general in nature and may not apply to your situation. Consult your attorney for advice on specific legal matters.