People talk about how time goes by so quickly—and seems to accelerate as we age—yet a startling number of people still do not have wills, or if they do have one, it’s not updated. People have a habit of tucking them away and forgetting about them…and the next thing they know, they’re 90!

I had a client who was in a position just like that. She had procrastinated re-writing her will and naming a new executor, and unfortunately she ended up dying much faster than expected. Her loved ones didn’t know where her will was stored, and as a result, everything had to go through probate.

Part of the probate process is locating first-degree relatives. For whatever reason, my client had ceased communicating with her children over 30 years ago, and expressed a desire to not see them. When they were contacted about their mother’s estate, they asserted their rights as heirs and began to take part in the probate proceedings.

My client never confided in me the reason why she was estranged from her children, because it is none of my business. But it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which a parent may not want to have a relationship with a child, and it’s frustrating to think that the courts can hand the keys to your estate directly to that child.

Even if you have a will, not updating it can have very negative consequences. Things change and people change. The close family friends that you selected as guardians for your children in 2010 may have moved or died in the years since.       

But how often should you update your will? A good rule of thumb is to revisit your instructions every time a new life event takes place, i.e., the birth of a baby, a marriage, a divorce, a death. Re-reading your will is another worthwhile practice, and I always advise my clients to do so when they renew their various insurance policies every year.

If my client would have reviewed her will on a yearly basis, her wishes would have been honored and she could have avoided probate—and the exorbitant costs associated with it! But time got the better of her and now her cherished belongings have an uncertain future. Uncertainty stinks. Don’t let it affect you or your legacy; update your will today!