Often people ask about how certain life changes can affect a will that is already in place in Pennsylvania. Typically, these life changes include having children, getting married, or getting divorced. This can be a very confusing area of the law for people who have changing families. This is also a good reason to do an annual will review. That way, it is more likely that the right beneficiaries are getting the correct inheritances.
Divorce - In Pennsylvania, getting divorced automatically changes a will to exclude the ex-spouse. This means that any inheritance promised to the ex-spouse is no longer recognized. Also, the ex-spouse will have no claim to a forced share of the estate. It is probably still a good idea to review a will after divorce, especially if the ex-spouse was the only named beneficiary in the will. If the ex-spouse was the only named beneficiary, and that person is removed as a matter of law, then the estate will pass through intestacy, as if the will never existed, because the only beneficiary can no longer take under the will. In some cases a person may actually wish to keep an ex-spouse in their will. Because the divorce removed the ex-spouse automatically, the person making the will would have to revise the will to add the ex-spouse back in by name.
Marriage - Being married or re-married in Pennsylvania can also affect a will if the marriage occurred after the will was created. The new spouse would be entitled to what he or she would receive if a will never existed. However, that would be all he or she is entitled to. If the spouse is the only close relative the deceased left behind, then the spouse may be entitled to all of the estate. However, if there are children or even parents surviving, the spouse may have to share the estate. Again, it is a good idea to revise a will after a major life event to ensure that each person is taking the proper amount of inheritance.
Children - It is also possible that a person may have children after executing a will in PA. These can be natural children or children through adoption. This can include the first child born after a will was executed, or additional children born after execution. Like with marriage, these children would be entitled to take as if no will had existed. This can get complicated when some children are specifically named in a will and others are not. This can leave the estate open to claims against the will and possibly many years of litigation. Revising a will to name all children can help to avoid most of these problems in most cases.
Again, annual reviews of will terms can be a helpful step for many people. It is very easy to write a will once and forget about it. Reviewing the terms of a will regularly will help to ensure that estate plans are carried out correctly.