Writing a will is essential when thinking about the future, especially if you want to protect the interests of your friends and family after you die.
However, once you’ve written your will, it’s important not to forget about it. If your circumstances have changed, certain aspects of your will may now be invalid or inappropriate and this may cause unnecessary stress for your loved ones, or even leave them with nothing.
Even if you haven’t had any major life events, it’s worth reviewing and revising your will every five years. Not only does this give you the chance to ensure it still reflects your wishes, but also to ensure it’s not now affected by changes to the law. For example, recent amends to inheritance tax and property laws have led many people to update their wills to make sure their family will not suffer from large tax bills.
Life events can also change your attitude towards how you divide up your estate, e.g. if you or a family member have had a long-term illness, you may now wish to leave a bequest to a certain charity or hospital.
Which major events should make me change my will?
Family additions – if you have new children or grandchildren, you may want to include them in your will, either to bestow a bequest upon them or to designate who will become their legal guardian on the event of your death;
Property changes – it is unlikely that your new house will share the exact characteristics as your previous property, so it is important to amend your will to reflect this. In addition, if you have purchased a second home you may wish to update your will, leaving each property to a different beneficiary to avoid tax issues;
Marriage – in England and Wales, getting married will invalidate an existing will, so it’s important to update to avoid this and ensure that your spouse is included, but previous bequests are still honoured;
Divorce – upon finalisation of a divorce, your ex-spouse will be defined as having pre-deceased you, but it is important to amend your will to ensure substitute provisions (as necessary), such as guardianship of children, maintenance etc.;
Separation – if you and your spouse are separated, but not divorced, upon your death the law will treat you as legally married and your spouse will still inherit, despite your circumstances;
Death – if someone named in your will dies, it’s important to know who any bequest you have made would revert to in light of their death;
Executor circumstances – if your executor is now unsuitable or unable to administer your estate, it is essential to appoint someone else. If there is nobody in charge of your estate at the time of your estate, there can be innumerable issues.
Are codicils still relevant?
Although still available, codicils (an official alteration to a will) are less common nowadays, as it can be just as quick to draw up a new will. However, codicils can be used for small changes, such as adding or revoking gifts to beneficiaries, or appointing a substitute executor. It is important to remember that codicils must still be signed and witnessed in the same way as a new will. For significant life events, you will need to write an entirely new will.
What should I do with my old will?
Once your new will has been written, signed and witnessed, you should destroy your old one as soon as possible. This will help to avoid any confusion as to which is correct and will also prevent issues whereby a previously named beneficiary is no longer mentioned. It is important to ensure that anyone with a copy of your old will (such as a solicitor or executor) also destroys previous versions.