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Does My Will “Expire” After a Certain Number of Years?

Estate planning should not be a one-time event. As your life, family, and financial situation changes, you should periodically revisit and revise your estate plan accordingly. That said, it is important to understand that a will does not come with an “expiration” date. If you sign a will today and leave it untouched for the next 50 years, that same will is still legal and admissible before a California probate court.

Probate Court Admits 50-Year-Old Will

For example, a California appeals court recently upheld the admission of a will signed in 1965 by a person who died in 2012, some 47 years later. The deceased was a married woman who had separated from her husband some months prior to her death. The husband, believing his wife had died without leaving will, asked a probate court to appoint him as administrator of her estate.

However, while the probate case was pending, a law firm presented a will to the court that the deceased had signed in 1965. This will named the husband as executor and specified a distribution of property. Despite this, in 2014 one of the deceased’s children opposed his father’s appointment as executor, citing alleged “elder abuse” against his mother.

The probate court declined to consider the elder abuse allegations, noting that was a matter for civil court. The probate judge’s decision was limited to whether the will was valid. It was, the court said, so it was required to respect the deceased’s appointment of her husband as executor.

The Court of Appeal, which recently upheld the probate court’s decision, noted that the son never challenged the validity of the will. And there was no evidence presented that demonstrated why the father should be disqualified as executor. The 1965 will therefore governed the disposition of the estate.

It should be noted that had the husband and wife divorced prior to her death, rather than merely separated, that would have automatically revoked the husband’s appointment as executor under the will pursuant to California law. The rest of the will would remain valid, however.

Do Not Forget About Your Own Will

But the passage of time does not, in and of itself, revoke or modify a person’s will. A 50-year-old will is just as valid as a will signed the day before someone’s death. Yet as the above case illustrates, a will may be so old that other family members—indeed, even the person who made the will—may forget about it. This is another reason you should periodically review your estate plan.

An experienced San Diego estate planning attorney can help you make your first will or revise an older document. An estate planning attorney can also advise you on how changes in your life, such as divorce or death of another family member may affect your will. Contact the Law Office of Scott C. Soady today if you have any estate planning questions or concerns.

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