Your New Year’s Resolution – When you should update your Will and why it’s important
By Richard Cussell
More than half of UK adults don’t have a Will, so you if have already made yours, you might feel as though you’re ahead of the game. However, many people don’t realise how important it is to keep your Will up-to-date to reflect any changes to your estate, personal circumstances or wishes for who should inherit when the time comes.
Having an up-to-date Will helps to ensure that it remains legally valid and can reduce the risk of an inheritance dispute after you are gone. It can therefore make life much easier for your loved ones in the future.
As a general rule of thumb, it is a good idea to review your Will at least once every 5 years to make sure it includes any new assets you have acquired and any changes to your wishes about how your estate should be divided when the time comes. You also need to make sure details such as the addresses of your Executors and beneficiaries are up-to-date.
There are also various common milestones you may reach in life at which time it is important to review your Will. A major change in circumstances, such as getting married or having children, could mean that your existing Will is no longer legally valid, so this is not something you can afford to put off.
Key life events that mean it’s time to review your Will
Key moments where you should look at reviewing your Will include:
• Buying a property with someone
• Getting married
• Thinking about getting married
• Getting divorced
• Having children
• Starting a business
If you fail to account for significant changes to your circumstances, it could see your Will ruled invalid e.g. any existing Will you have will be considered void if you have married since it was made.
It could also raise the possibility of an inheritance claim e.g. if you have a child not provided for in the Will, they may be able to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 for ‘reasonable provision’ from the estate i.e. sufficient funds to meet their reasonable needs.
What happens if you don’t have an up-to-date Will?
If you don’t leave behind a valid Will when you pass away, your estate will normally be dealt with under the rules of intestacy. These are rules set by the government for who can inherit from an estate where there is no Will.
Under the rules of intestacy, who inherits will depend on the size of your estate and what living relatives you have. Spouses and civil partners will be the first priority to inherit, followed by any children, grandchildren and other direct descendants you have. Other relatives such as parents, siblings, aunts and uncles can also potentially inherit depending on the circumstances.
If you have left a Will but there are questions over its validity (e.g. because there is a concern about your mental capacity at the time the Will was made) this could result in an inheritance dispute between your loved ones. Inheritance disputes can be very time consuming and costly, with the potential to seriously damage important family relationships, so this is a really key reason for making sure you leave a clear, valid Will.
To see how your estate would be dealt with under intestacy rules, take a look at the government’s intestacy tool.
Top tips for avoiding inheritance disputes
As well as making sure you have an up-to-date Will, there are various steps you can take to minimise the risk of an inheritance dispute after you are gone. These include:
• Have your Will written by a qualified solicitor – this can help to ensure your Will is clearly written and no important issues are overlooked.
• Making sure your Will is valid – including ensuring that it is properly witnessed and signed.
• Take professional advice about the value of your estate – this can help to avoid any suggestion you did not fully understand the effect of your Will.
• Speak to the beneficiaries about your wishes – avoid the element of surprise if people do not receive as much as they might have been expecting.
• Clearly date your Will – preventing any confusion about which is the most up-to-date version.
• Store a copy of your Will with your solicitor – this makes sure the correct version of your Will can be easily accessed when it is required for probate.
How to update your Will
You have two main options for updating your Will – you can either modify your existing Will with a supplemental document known as a codicil or you can make a whole new Will that supersedes your current Will. It is important to take specialist advice on this to make sure you choose the right approach for your circumstances.
A codicil is generally only appropriate if you need to make minor alterations to your Will e.g. updating the address details of an Executor. It will need to be signed and witnessed in the same way as for your main Will in order to be considered legal.
If you need to make more substantial changes, e.g. altering your beneficiaries or to account for newly acquired assets, you will likely need to make a whole new Will. When making a new Will, it is important to have it properly signed and witnessed and it is advisable to have it dated, so there is no confusion over which is the most recent version of your Will.
Get expert help making or updating your Will
Whether you have an existing Will you’d like to review or need help making a new Will, our friendly, expert team will be happy to work with you to achieve your aims. We will talk you through all of the issues you need to consider and then draft a codicil or brand new Will that sets out exactly how you want your estate to be dealt with, minimising the risk of any future disputes.
For specialist Will writing advice, please contact our friendly, expert team in Wells, Street and Somerton now.