Update Your Will After Major Life Events

When a new baby arrives, there’s not much time to do anything extra, but if you have a will you should review it and update it as necessary. The Associated Press is reporting that “Heath Ledger’s will leaves nothing to his former girlfriend and their 2-year-old daughter because it was never updated after they became part of his life.”

This randomly Googled legal firm’s website says any of the following events are good times to review your will and consider whether it should be changed:

  • any property you own increases or decreases in significantly in value;
  • you move to another state;
  • estate tax laws change;
  • there are changes in your family;
  • there are changes in your selection of “guardian, personal representative or trustee;”
  • “there are changes in the way in which you own property;”
  • your personal wishes have changed.

The AP article says Ledger left everything to his parents and sisters, but that “Kim Ledger, the actor’s father, has said the family would make sure the actor’s former girlfriend, actress Michelle Williams, and that their 2-year-old daughter, Matilda Rose, would be provided for.”
Update: for even more details and advice, check out the comment by reader Eyebrows McGee, a real life lawyer type, below.

“Ledger’s Will Leaves Nothing to Daughter” [Associated Press]

“When to Update Your Will?” [Askegaard & Robinson, P.A.]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. ClayS says:

    Everyone should know, if you have a minor child, you and your spouse need to have a will for the purpose of designating a guardian for that child, should something happen to you. That is very important even if you are a pauper. You can even do one yourself with will software.

  2. ohiomensch says:

    Not sure about Aussie law, but I am pretty sure that in the US this will could be overturned. I think there is a provision in the law for unborn children, and I think it could be proved that dis-inheriting the child was never HL’s intent.

  3. MissPeacock says:

    I’m nearly 30 and my parents still have my uncle listed as the executor for their estate. They haven’t changed their will since I was a child. I keep telling them to change it and they keep forgetting.

  4. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    Lets be honest – what was Heath’s kid gonna get anyway? A prius when she turns 16? The bigger question is where all that money went!

    For real though, understandable that big life events should dictate a review of your will. Sadly this isn’t common sense. :(

  5. * any property you own increases or decreases in significantly in value;

    –Mostly only if affects your estate’s tax issues, or equity in inheritances among multiple beneficiaries, or an inheritance you’ve designated to specifically provide for, say, an adult disabled child. “Significantly” here generally means REALLY significantly; when you have it drafted the first time, talk with the lawyer about HOW significantly.

    * you move to another state;

    –In many individual situations (i.e., where nothing falls funny w/r/t state law; most simple wills for young families with children), wills can be drafted to be legal in many states. And if your attorney isn’t drafting the will to meet or exceed execution requirements in most/all 50 states (3 witnesses, a notary, and a self-proving affidavit), that’s just lazy drafting.

    * there are changes in your family;
    * there are changes in your selection of “guardian, personal representative or trustee;

    YES. However, when originally drafting, provisions can be made — if you’re still growing your family, you can draft with future-born children in mind. If your executor/guardian is in poor health, you can name alternates with that in mind. I like it better when everybody’s named by full name and DOB and everything, but “and any children born of my marriage to X or adopted by us in the future” (or whatever language) is perfectly legit.

    And FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, if you adopt, make sure the language in your will provides for adopted as well as “natural-born” children. If not, change it! People naturally think of their adopted children as their own, so it just doesn’t occur to them that their will might not.

    Not to malign my fellow attorneys, but I think some want you to come back and redraft every three years when you have a new kid just because it’s a steady source of income. :) I’d rather see you ever 10 or so when your entire life-stage changes.

    And don’t forget the pets!

    (Number one tear-inducing client-meeting moment is when I ask them about pets, and it’s almost always the men who choke up then. By the time they call me, they’re used to the idea they need to make provision for the kids. But they always forget the pets until I mention it, and that makes them teary.)

    If you get well-educated on your will, you should be able to make educated decisions about when it needs changing and when it doesn’t.

    Finally, and a bit on the side, I don’t actually do codicils, since codicil execution requirements are basically the same as will execution requirements in my state, and computers make them unnecessary; I can run off a new copy of the will with a couple clauses changed in 10 minutes, instead of having to type the entire thing over again like you used to do.

  6. MaliBoo Radley says:


    Those were his assets at the time he made the will. He had made millions in the last few years.

  7. Gorky says:

    Why would he WANT his Ex-Girlfriend to get anything. His kid should have had a trust set up though

  8. simonkapo says:

    The change in property value could be important to people if they divide their property amongst their childrens.

    Ex: I have a house that today is worth $900K; i also have approximately 900K in liquid assets.

    If i have two children, one of which lives in the same town as me (Kid A) and one who lives in Alaska (Kid B), I might want to just give the house to Kid A and the money to Kid B, seeing as how they are of comparable value…. but, if the value of the house drops to $600K, i might want to rethink this distribution.

  9. @simonkapo: Yeah, that’d be the perfect example. :)

  10. CurbRunner says:

    Don’t forget to change your will after a divorce either.

  11. ohiomensch says:

    @Gorky: There were at least two known homes that HL and his girlfriend purchased together. Regardless, he should have updated his will.

  12. Pylon83 says:

    Incorrect. The article says his “New York” assets. Not his assets, or his assets at the time the will was made. Careful reading leads to many answers.

  13. @pinkbunnyslippers:

    I believe most of his assets are in Australia. We have yet to learn about those.

    @Gorky: Some people believe that providing for the mother of your child is a way to also provide for your child.

  14. @simonkapo: Just be sure that if you have more than one child, be sure to split things evenly (unless there’s some sort of extenuating circumstance). When parents give more to one than the other it can cause much strife.

  15. @ceejeemcbeegee: I think it’s most important that parents be reasonably open with their children about their decisions and reasoning (if that’s possible w/in the family) — I see a lot of strife caused by parental decisions that simply seem reasonless and (worse) come out of the blue, when the parents in fact may have a good reason for the decision — Sammy took care of them at the retirement home while Sally never visited, or Grandma (bypassing her own financially-comfortable children) financed Grandson’s college education as a private arrangement between the two and left quite a bit more Granddaughter who hadn’t received the same help, and then her two daughters get in a tizzy over whose kid got left more ….

    Relatively functional families kids are usually pretty realistic about the family situation (Joe has a special needs child and will get more money to help with that cost; Jim is a screw-up and will get his portion in trust), and they’re generally at peace with it (more or less). Dysfunctional families will generally find something to be at each other’s throats about no matter what. “You threw out grandma’s 49 cent tchochkie from Atlantic City? YOU KNEW THAT WAS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN MY LIFE EVEN THOUGH I NEVER EVEN LOOKED AT IT FOR TWENTY YEARS!”

    Actually, in funtionalish families, there’s often more upset over who gets picked to be the executor or the medical decision maker, as its seen as a mark of parental trust and as labeling that kid “the responsible child.”

  16. Flame says:

    Good advice about the wills there. I agree, codicils are completely obsolete. I work in a law office, and we do the occasional will too. I think it might be important to mention, too, that a power of attorney for healthcare is important to have too. I live in Idaho, where there is a statutory form for the powers of attorney. In this day and age, you could be in need of a medical power of attorney at any time, and it is important to make sure that you know who is willing to pull the plug (if that’s what you want) and who wont. Cheers :)

  17. Beerad says:

    When I took Trusts and Estates lo those many years ago, our professor liked to illustrate concepts (and keep our attention) by reading snippits from Dear Abby. He had amassed quite a file over the years chronicalling family strife and infighting over a deceased relative’s will (or lack thereof). Also interesting to see what strange schemes people cooked up that they thought would keep the peace after their death; I remember one lady who wrote in saying that she had devised an elaborate lottery system to determine the order in which her relatives would take turns picking single pieces out of her house after her death.

    Moral of the story is plan ahead and be nice to each other — it’s hard enough dealing with bereavement without having to alienate your family over who gets to keep Grandma’s music box.

  18. c-side says:

    What a timely post! I’ve recently considered declaring March 15 (the Ides of March) National Update Your Will Day. Just because…well, you just never know.

    Seriously, though, another important time to update/create your will is when you find out you have a serious health condition, congenital disease or terminal illness.

    You can get started today by downloading basic forms off the Internets.