When death grows near, the issue of a legacy can come into much sharper focus.
As their end of life becomes less abstract, people have a tendency to turn back and look over their old Last Will. Consequently, some of them decide to radically change their plans. What about your Last Will and Testament? While it is your Last Will, deathbed revisions can create dangerous challenges to your Last Will and overall estate plan if not accomplished correctly.
The Wall Street Journal considered this matter in a recent article titled “Changing a Will at the Last Minute.”
As you can imagine, a Last Will is an important document. Not surprisingly, drafting a Last Will “on the fly” or redrafting one from the hospital bed raises the red flag. Since your Last Will expresses your final intentions in black and white, if there is any room to question the truth, seriousness, or sanity (yes, that is a big one) of your black and white intentions, then the entire plan can be thrown out. Many such deathbed changes to the will result in challenges especially when an heir in the previous will has been eliminated by the “deathbed” will. Our experience in Utah has been that the deathbed will, if not thought out and properly implemented may result in a substantial cost to the estate in attorneys fees and costs necessary to defend the last minute changes.
Against this backdrop, pause for a moment of serious self-reflection before making any changes to your Last Will under circumstances that could attract greater scrutiny later. For example, ask yourself “why do I need to make this change now and not before?”
The simple truth, of course, is that your last-minute revision can be utterly intentional and utterly necessary. For one, our thoughts about life, family and charity likely become crystal clear when the end becomes real. There may be every reason in the world certain changes must be made now and not before. Then again, the legal environment changes constantly and sometimes the Last Will must be updated to save the family fortune from taxes or protect loved ones.
Bottom line: there has to be a seriousness and thoroughness to your planning even until the end. Last minute revisions to your Last Will might be required, but they must be done correctly or risk causing more harm than good.
In the end, successful estate planning at any stage means working closely with competent estate planning counsel, someone who has “seen it all.” This is not a “do-it-yourself project.” For that matter, proper planning now may lead you away from the need to annotate or change your Last Will later.