Why you should review your Will
A person’s circumstances change over time – they may enter a new relationship, marry or have children, face the difficulties of bereavement or the ending of those relationships. It’s usual and sensible for people to adjust their financial position and other affairs as their circumstances evolve - and their Will should be a very important part of that planning.
Check your Will every 3-5 years
As a rule of thumb, you should review your Will every three to five years, even if you don’t think your circumstances have changed significantly. This will enable you to check that it still accurately reflects the way you would like your estate to be distributed after you die. There are also reasons beyond your control that mean it’s important that your Will is reviewed. For instance, when you marry/ enter into a civil partnership, any Will you currently do have in place will be automatically revoked.
Changing your Will
If you need to change your Will, then it is always best to make a new Will. Your new Will once duly executed will automatically revoke the old Will.
You can also make changes to a Will using a Codicil. However, these are not widely used and not considered by most Solicitors to be good practice.
A change in the law
A change in the law can also mean that it is a good idea to check your Will is as effective as possible. In particular, key changes to watch out for are changes to property law, family law or, most commonly, inheritance tax changes. These are all complex areas and you should ensure you have obtained legal advice to fully understand any changes and how that may effect the drafting and content of your Will.
Details of people named in the Will
Change of executors
It is important to review whether the people you have appointed in your Will as your Executors are still the people you want to handle your estate? You need to ensure the Executors wish to take on the responsibility and would be able to do so. Certain factors should be considered here, such as the age of those appointed, location and their capacity. They might have moved away, become ill themselves or died. An Executor always has the ability to instruct a Solicitor to deal with the actual administration of your estate but you still want to ensure they would have the time and ability to consider this and also be on hand for that Solicitor, where instructed to sign paperwork, authorise certain decisions where needed.
Change of beneficiaries and changes of gifts
Equally, if a beneficiary named in the Will has died you may wish to name someone else instead. You may no longer have a relationship with a beneficiary appointed or your own financial circumstances may have changed to such an extent that you want to amend their gift or exclude/ include others.
As well as including any new gifts, you should also consider whether any gifts you have already specified in your Will need to be changed. For example, if you have a gift that is ‘£5,000 to my godson Harry’, is this still the sum you wish Harry to receive? Or, would it be more appropriate to give a percentage of your estate?
Reviewing your Will after important events
Most importantly, you need to review your Will after any major life events. Some particularly important times to review your Will are:
if you get married or enter into a civil partnership;
divorce or dissolution of a marriage or civil partnership;
birth of children or grandchildren;
if you sell property or move house; and
if you have a significant change in your financial situation.
If you enter a marriage or civil partnership
Any Will you have is automatically revoked by a marriage or civil partnership.
This means that it will lose its legal effect, and will not have an impact on what happens to your estate. Instead, your estate will be governed by the intestacy rules. To retain control over your estate, it is important to create a new Will as soon as possible.
There is an exception to this rule if the Will specifically states that you were already planning to marry or become a civil partner when you were making the Will. In practical terms, this usually applies when the couple’s marriage or civil partnership is imminent so it is not failsafe to include this 'contemplation of marriage/ civil partnership' where you then do not enter that relationship within a reasonable period of time.
Divorce or dissolution of a marriage or civil partnership
Unlike the entering into a marriage or civil partnership, divorce or dissolution does not revoke the Will but automatically deprives your former spouse or civil partner of any benefit they may have received under the Will. Any gifts or legacies for other beneficiaries remain intact. This would mean that your estate would be distributed differently, and you should review your Will to make sure that things are dealt with in the way you want. It is also often advisable to include a declaration in the Will to state why you are not providing for a former spouse to avoid any potential claim by them on your estate when you do die.
Birth of children or grandchildren
While you should aim to review your Will as regularly as possible, the birth of a child or grandchild should act as a reminder to do so. Most importantly, it is the ideal moment to decide whether to update your Will to make provision for the new member of your family. Wills are not always drafted in a way that any future children would also be included and would not include any children still in the mother's pregnancy stage so in that instance you would need a specific clause to cover that.
If you sell property, move house, or have a significant change in your financial situation
While there is a lot to think about when moving house, it should also act as a reminder to review your Will. As a minimum, it is important to update the address of your house.
However, if the move means you have more or less cash in your estate it may also mean updating any individual gifts or bequests. For the same reason, after any significant change in your financial situation you should also review your Will - either to include additional bequests or gifts, or to reduce the amount given to individual beneficiaries.
You should check that the value of your estate is still sufficient to meet the bequests you wish to make. If specific legacies make up more in value than your estate is worth, then there will be no residuary estate. So it might be that property would have to be sold in order to satisfy those specific gifts. If you don’t want to run that risk, then you should always be aware of how much in individual gifts you are leaving as a proportion of your estate.
A change in the value of property
You should review your Will to keep abreast of the changes to your estate. House values do not always increase in value, and investments which rely on stock market movements can also fluctuate. If you have savings, these may be comparatively safe, but their value may not increase in the same way as property. All of this means that when you die the value of what you leave to different beneficiaries may not be as you intended.
A change in the law
The law is ever evolving and changing, particularly in relation to inheritance tax, how that is calculated and also with regards to the complex area of trusts. It is becoming increasingly common for people to make more complex Wills which include some form of a trust. Specialist legal advice should always be obtained in relation to these areas but certainly where you are concerned about the potential remarriage of your spouse in the event of your death, or potential care home fees, it may well be appropriate to consider a Will trust.