One of the main reasons Pennsylvanians create estate plans is to ensure that their property goes where they want it to go after they are gone. A will and other estate planning documents are meant to reflect the final wishes of the testator.
However, life changes, and in some instances the testator does not update their will to reflect those changes. This can have ramifications with the document and alter it automatically based on the law. It is imperative to understand the state law regarding a will and what happens if the testator gets married or divorces without updating it.
A ‘modification by circumstances’ can change the will automatically
Under the law, a marriage or divorce after a will has been executed is a “modification by circumstances.” If the will has been completed and there is a marriage, a divorce or a pending divorce, it is essential to know how the document will be changed.
For divorce or pending divorce, any aspect of the will that names the testator’s spouse will become ineffective. For example, if the marital home, bank accounts and other properties were left to the surviving spouse, that would no longer be the case if there is a divorce or pending divorce. An exception is if the document makes clear that the divorce is irrelevant and the provisions are to be left in place.
Regarding marriage, the testator might have gotten married after creating the will. If it is not updated and the person dies, then the spouse will get what they would have gotten if the testator did not have a will at all and died intestate. An exception in this instance is if the intestate share is more than they were to get based on what the document says they will receive in anticipation of the marriage.
For complex estate planning matters, having experienced advice can help
Life changes are inevitable. Some are positive and some are negative. With an estate plan, people might not update it as these changes occur. This could cause confusion and discord when the person’s property is distributed based on the contents of the will. With these complicated situations, it is important to be fully prepared and to have experienced help. Discussing the case and all its details is key whether it is crafting the will or dealing with concerns after the testator has died.