When it comes to wills and inheritance, New York works hard to create laws that are generally fair and even-handed for all parties involved. Thus, if a person dies without a will, there are rules for who inherits property. If a person writes a will, gets divorced, and dies afterward without changing the will, the law presumes that the deceased didn’t want his or her former spouse to inherit anymore and invalidates any gifts or transfers of authority to the former spouse.
Just because the rules are fair, however, doesn’t mean that they reflect your wishes. When your family situation changes, you should always change your will.
The case of Emil Knospe can serve as an example. Mr. Knospe wrote a will leaving his estate to his friend, whom he later married and then divorced. When he died, his former wife claimed that even though the law clearly states that divorce automatically cuts a spouse out of the will, her case was different because Mr. Knospe included her in his will before they were married. Nevertheless, the court ruled that the statute was clear and the former Mrs. Knospe did not inherit under her former husband’s will. If Mr. Knospe indeed had wanted his ex-wife to inherit, then he could have gotten his wish easily by updating his will when their circumstances changed.
The same is true for the numerous different scenarios that can come up in each person’s life. Do you want to leave all your property to your second wife, leaving out your children from your first marriage? Let’s say that you want to leave a provision for your children from your first marriage. If so, do you intend for your new wife’s children — your stepchildren — to be in your will as well? Under what terms? Do you want your grandchildren to inherit a certain amount separately? Ten years ago you appointed your brother as a trustee for your minor children’s inheritance. Do you still think he is the best person for the job today?
A small change in your relationships can make a big change in what happens to your property after you die. That is why it is so important to periodically review your estate plan so that you can amend it to reflect your wishes.
Armstrong & Lamberti, PLLC , has years of experience helping New Yorkers from all walks of life with their estate plans. Contact us for a free consultation to review your situation and see how we can help you secure your children’s future through estate planning — your way.