We would all like to think that once our will has been drafted and signed, we don't need to worry about it again. Unfortunately this is not always the case. The question is therefore, when do I need to update my will?
The converse of this is that often we believe we need to update our will when in fact we do not necessarily need to. This blog is designed to act as a checklist for anyone who wonders whether it might be time for a will review.
Circumstances when you must make a new will
1. You have entered a marriage or civil partnership since your previous will
If you have married or entered into a civil partnership since you last updated your will, this will cause your previous will to be revoked by your marriage. The only exception to this rule is if your existing will was made in contemplation of marriage or civil partnership and therefore explicitly states that any marriage or civil partnership will not revoke it. We would recommend you contact a solicitor about a new will, even if it is in identical terms, as soon as possible after your marriage.
Circumstances when you should consider making a new will
1. If an executor dies or becomes unable or unsuitable to act for any reason
If an executor dies or becomes unable to act, you should consider whether you would be happy for any remaining executors to continue to act without them. You may wish to consider updating your will to add in a new executor in these circumstances.
If none of your executors are living or able to act at the time of your death, a beneficiary of your estate may be able to take out a grant of representation in their absence.
2. If a beneficiary dies
If a beneficiary dies, you may wish to review your will and reconsider who receives their share. It may be there is already provision in your will for an alternative beneficiary in these circumstances but if there is not, it may create a partial intestacy. This means that their legacy will be distributed according to the intestacy rules which may not reflect your wishes.
3. If you divorce
If you divorce your spouse or civil partner and have received your decree absolute, your estate will be treated as if your ex-spouse has predeceased you. However, if you were to die before you receive your decree absolute and your estranged spouse or civil partner was a beneficiary of your estate, they would be entitled to whatever you had left them under your will. We would therefore recommend that, to protect yourself, you update your will as soon as possible after your separation.
4. You have had children or your children have turned 18 since your previous will
If you have had children since you made your will, you may want to update your will to make some provision for them. It would also be wise to make a new will that appoints legal guardians for your children in the event that you died before they reached the age of 18.
If your children have reached the age of 18 since you made your previous will, you may want to consider adding them as an executor or potentially changing any legacy you have left them. If they have their own family, you may want to consider a provision for them in your will too.
5. There is a change in tax law or care fee rules
As solicitors, we can only provide advice in relation to your will based on the tax laws and rules on care fees at that time. We cannot of course guarantee that these rules will not change in the future and if they do so, we would recommend you arrange a will review with a solicitor.
6. There is another significant change in your financial or personal circumstances
If there is any other significant change in your financial or personal circumstances, you should consider reviewing your will. For example, if your estate has substantially increased in size, you may need to consider tax and/or care fee planning which may not have previously been considered.
7. Your original will is missing
If your original will is missing, this can cause problems in obtaining a grant of representation, particularly if you do not hold a copy of your will. For the avoidance of doubt and to avoid causing difficulties for your executors, it is always better to do a new will in these circumstances, even if it's in the same terms as your previous will.
Circumstances when you do not need to change your will
1. Someone named in your will changes address
A change of address alone does not mean you need to update your will. We would however recommend that you contact the firm of solicitors holding your will (if applicable) so they can leave a note of the new address with your will for future reference.
2. Someone named in your will changes their name
You do not need to update your will if someone in your will changes their name provided they can produce legal documentation to prove they are the same person. If they have changed their name due to marriage, this could be a marriage certificate, or it could be a change of name deed.
3. You gift a possession included in your will
If you gift something during your lifetime and that item was included in your will (for example, an item of jewellery) you do not need to change your will. If you no longer have an item at your date of death, the gift will simply fail.
In general, it is recommended that you review your will at least once every three to five years to ensure you still understand its provisions and are happy with its contents. A Will is a liquid document and a new will can be drafted at any time so it is worth considering whether your will still reflects your current wishes and circumstances or whether it needs updating.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.