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The Importance of Updating Your Wills

Wills can become out of date for any number of reasons. Perhaps your familial situation has changed so that the terms of the will no longer reflect your wishes. Sometimes the law changes, rendering parts of your will contradictory or confusing. Perhaps someone close to you has passed away, leaving a hole in your will. For all of these reasons and more, it is important to regularly turn your mind to your will and contemplate whether or not it might need to be updated. Failing to do so can be catastrophic. The case of Koziarski v. Sullivan is illustrative of the potential perils of drafting a will and never thinking about it again.

In Koziarski¸ Jadwiga drafted a will in December 1977 which left everything to her children in equal shares provided that if one of her children were to pass away before her, then their share would pass to their issue in equal shares, per stirpes. She passed away in 2016. At the time of her passing one of her sons had predeceased her. That son left behind two children, one of whom was born outside of marriage (Jesse). At the time Jadwiga drafted her will, the word issue excluded children born outside of marriage. The law was updated so that in 1978 the meaning of the word issue was changed to include children born outside of marriage. Since Jadwiga never updated her will, either to reflect the change in the law or the death of her son, there was confusion about whether or not Jesse was included in the will. This resulted in expensive litigation which cost the estate approximately $63,000.00. At the end of it all, it was determined Jesse was not entitled to a share of the estate, completely excluding one of Jadwiga’s grandchildren.

Had Jadwiga turned her mind to her will at any point between 1977 and her death in 2016, this ruling – which the judge made “with a good deal of regret” – could have been avoided.