When Do I Need To Update My Will?

It’s a good idea to read over your existing Will on a regular basis, just to check it still represents your wishes.

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By Nicola Briggs - 3rd August 2021

You should review your Will every five years to ensure it’s still fit for purpose. You’ll also need to update it after major life events such as marriage, divorce and the birth of children.

It’s a good idea to read over your existing Will on a regular basis, just to check it still represents your wishes. It’s also essential that you ask a solicitor to update your Will, should there be any change in your circumstances, otherwise, your Will may have been invalidated. Or, a gift may fail or the wrong people could inherit from your estate. A change in circumstances might be:

  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Separation
  • Birth of children or grandchildren
  • Death in the family
  • Family dispute
  • Dementia diagnosis
  • Purchase or sale of major assets
  • Change in inheritance tax laws

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Marriage

If you marry or re-marry, then any Will you have made previously will be revoked, unless it was written in contemplation of that specific marriage. This means that you have no Will at all and the intestacy laws will apply to your estate after your death.

This will have unfortunate consequences where you have children from an earlier relationship. Under the intestacy laws, your new spouse or civil partner stands to benefit from the first £275,000 of your estate and half of everything else, even if it is a short marriage.

You might leave instructions with your new spouse to provide for your children, but they are under no obligation to fulfil these wishes. You cannot expect a new spouse or civil partner to treat your children in the same way that a natural parent would. This can lead to a very big sense of injustice for your own children, which cannot be remedied after you have gone.

Divorce

When you divorce or dissolve your civil partnership, the person who was named in your Will as your spouse or civil partner will be treated as if they have predeceased you. This means that any gift to them will fail. If you have named your ex-spouse or civil partner as an Executor, then this appointment will also fail.

In any event, you may still be friends with your ex-spouse or civil partner. If so, you may feel that they’re the best person to act as your Executor and you may still want them to benefit in some way.

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Separation

Where your relationship breaks down but the divorce or dissolution is pending, there may be the need for an emergency Will to prevent your soon-to-be ex from taking a benefit. Otherwise, if you die before the decree absolute has been issued, your ex-spouse will inherit whatever you’ve left them in your Will. This can be prevented easily by the writing of a new Will.

Birth of children or grandchildren

The birth of children and grandchildren may cause you to reconsider the terms of your existing Will. Guardians will need to be appointed for your own children and you may wish to limit the age at which a person under your Will can inherit.

Death in the family

A death within the family can mean you receive a planned or unplanned inheritance which may impact your own inheritance tax position. A Trust may have been created in the Will of the person who has died, giving you rights to use or benefit from property and money in your lifetime. The burden of inheritance tax may need to be directed to those beneficiaries who can afford it, as it is not necessary for every beneficiary to share that burden.

If one of your beneficiaries dies, then you may also consider rewriting your Will to reflect this change of situation.

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Family dispute

A wider family break up or dispute may cause rifts that need to be taken into account. You may be concerned about the influence one family member may have over a younger member of the family.

Dementia diagnosis

The diagnosis of the early onset of dementia for either oneself or your loved one should make you consider urgently the need for a Will review, whilst time is on your side.

If you have been diagnosed with dementia, the Will you are now making may well be your last Will, so a review is essential. Even if you have a Lasting Power of Attorney, it is not possible for your Attorney to make a new Will for you. In some circumstances, an application can be made to the Court of Protection for a statutory Will but that can cost thousands of pounds and is beyond the means of most, save in the most exceptional circumstances.

Where your loved one has been diagnosed with dementia, it may make sense to keep any assets away from them. While this seems harsh, assets such as property will only be eaten up by future care costs, leaving nothing for future generations. Similarly, the impact of care home fees may significantly reduce the value of an estate, leaving only enough money to pay the legacies and nothing for the residuary beneficiaries – which was never the intention. In such a case, the legacies need to be reduced or removed so that the ultimate intended beneficiaries can take their inheritance.

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Sale or purchase of major assets

The acquisition or sale of a business or of a foreign holiday home and any change in the nature of family assets should be considered a trigger point.

Change in inheritance tax laws

Additionally, although your position may have stood still, the world of inheritance tax may have changed around you. If so, your old Will could either be out of date, overcomplicated or unfit for purpose. If you have already taken steps to protect your loved ones by creating a Will, it is important to continue this good work by updating it on a regular basis.

How to update your Will

If you want to change your Will, then you’ll either need to write an entirely new one, or you can make minor changes by adding a codicil.

However, we cannot add a codicil to your Will unless we wrote your current Will. This is because we are not familiar with your family situation and wealth. Furthermore, we cannot take it at face value that your Will was correctly drawn in the first place. A full review will be undertaken, which has led on occasion to us being able to correct mistakes in previous Wills.

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