Hello, my name is Chad Taylor, Managing Partner with MDT Financial Advisors here in Houston, Texas. 

We can all remember our English teachers explaining the uses and benefits of the “W” questions when writing: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. These questions still periodically come up at critical points in our lives. Who should I marry? What should I study at college? When can I retire? Where do babies come from? Why does my daughter need such an expensive wedding?  How did I get so old?

The “W” questions are particularly important when it comes to your will. Who will I leave my assets to? What will I leave for the people I love? When will it become available after my passing? Where will I store my will? Why am I making these decisions, and am I being fair to my heirs?

Then come the all-important “how” questions. When it comes to wills, these are the ones that don’t get asked frequently enough:

“How come?” 

“How often?”

Sometimes we might ask these questions when creating a will, but not when updating it.  But keeping your will up-to-date is as important as creating it in the first place—otherwise, it might not truly reflect your wishes.  So the next time you update your will, consider these “how” questions first:

“How come?” Legally the executor of your will is obligated to follow your written instructions. What might this mean? If your will states that your assets should go to your spouse; then that’s where they will go. Easy enough. But what if you’re divorced and you haven’t updated your will? Well, your assets will go to your ex. And what if you re-marry? Surely, you would think, the courts will recognize that you want your current spouse to receive your assets. They won’t; unless you’ve updated your will. Another common situation is when your spouse passes away. Many people would assume that their assets would immediately pass to their children. Not necessarily. You need it in writing. You don’t want your children, spouse, or grandchildren to not receive what you worked so hard to leave them. But there is a simple solution: updating your will.

“How often?” Anytime you’ve gone through a change-of-life event, you’ll want to make sure that those written instructions, i.e. your will, is up to date with your wishes. I’ve already addressed what a change in marital status might mean. But there are many other circumstances you’ll want to consider. You may have sold a house or some other asset that you would like to include or remove from your will.

I often talk with people who haven’t had a recent life altering event or transaction take place. If you fall into this category I would still encourage you to review and update your will. A general rule of thumb is that you should review your will with a professional at least once every five years. This is done because we change as people. What seemed important five years ago might seem very trivial today; your heirs and their needs may have changed as well.

Many people avoid this process because it can be uncomfortable to address end of life issues. However, doing so can save your loved ones untold amounts of grief. Far too often I hear or read about a family who is dealing with the probate process, or squabbling heirs. This is not only financially stressful, but more importantly it is emotionally stressful. They are forced into a situation where they are required to continually revisit the personal loss of a loved one, prolonging an already difficult healing process.

If you have not recently reviewed your will, please give me a call at 281-938-1111.  I can help you review your assets and make sure that your wishes will be carried out the way you want. I can also help you structure your estate to protect your assets and prevent unnecessary taxes. There is confidence in knowing that you have your affairs in order and that you can leave a legacy for your loved ones, not an unnecessary source of stress.  Thank you and have a good day.