Be sure to regularly review your will

Tue 24th Jan 2023

As part of ‘Update Your Will Week’ with Solicitors for the Elderly, Alan Gates from our wills, probate and trusts team explains why it is important to keep your will updated.

It is vital to remember that wills are not for life, in other words, our lives change. What you wrote down and set out in a will ten years ago, for example, might not necessarily reflect your wishes today. You should consider changes in your circumstances when it comes to reviewing your will.

So, it is essential that you think about your personal situation, consider whether you have had any life changes and ask yourself whether the content of your will is still relevant. We recommend that you update your will every five years and there are several reasons for doing this.

Why is having an up to date will important?

Having an up to date will is critical to making sure your wishes are carried out in the way you would like when you die. As Solicitors for the Elderly says, “It can also help to ease distress for loved ones and minimise disputes.”

Major changes that impact your loved ones such as marriage, divorce, a new birth, or death may mean you suddenly have to think differently. We know that over half the wills in the South West are out of date and many people don’t even have one in place.

You have children

Having children is probably one of the most life-changing experiences. Generally speaking, you will always want to put your children first and providing for them will be a priority. Having an up to date will is especially important if you have children, to make sure they are looked after in the way you would want should you die.

Where children are concerned, it is crucial that you have an up to date will in place whether you are married to the other parent or not. You will still want to name guardians to take care of your children should the worst happen.

As we have recently discovered, new research shows that eight out of ten parents in the South West have no legal guardian in place to care for their children in the event of their deaths.

There are risks involved in not identifying a legal guardian in a will – social services or the courts could step in and decide what happens to your children if you don’t have a will in place. Godparents do not count as legal guardians.

Your children grow up

Once your children grow up, they may well have children of their own and so you might want to think about providing for your grandchildren in your will.

Your own child or children’s circumstances will almost certainly change as they get older, and things may become a little more difficult.

It would be foolish to pretend otherwise that families never ‘fall out,’ have disagreements or worse, become estranged from each other, so being realistic about your family’s situation would be a sensible consideration.

Your child may marry or divorce, or their financial situation may change. They may become vulnerable or incapacitated and you may want to think about putting money in trust for them instead. There are a whole host of complex factors that might affect how you want to provide for them in the future.

In addition, many parents are increasingly becoming ‘the Bank of Mum and Dad’ and if you help one or more of your children you may want to renew your will to make sure that help is reflected in the amount they subsequently inherit. This can be quite complex to arrange and needs careful planning.

You get married or enter a civil partnership

You may not be aware that wills become void when entering a marriage or civil partnership unless the will was drafted in anticipation of that marriage or civil partnership.

Another point to consider is that you may be marrying for a second time – you may have had children with your first wife or husband and stepchildren suddenly come into your life, as part of your second marriage.

Family dynamics are very rarely straightforward and extended families could add extra complexities to the arrangements in your will. My blog on dividing your assets after a second marriage and in a blended family deals with some of these issues.

Even if you don’t marry or enter into a civil partnership and you’re technically ‘unmarried’ to your partner, you may still want to ensure they inherit some or part of your estate. Remember there is no such thing as ‘common law marriage’ – don’t assume that your long-term ‘unmarried’ partner will automatically inherit anything when you die. We look at this matter in a separate blog.

You get divorced

Naturally, most people will want to change their will once they separate or divorce. Although it might not be the first thing you think about, changing your will after divorce to reflect your wishes should be a step you take.

A will is not automatically revoked once you get divorced and nor does it mean a previous will before you were married comes back into play. Your current will remains valid, but for inheritance purposes, your ex-partner is treated as if they had died when your marriage or civil partnership was dissolved.

This means that if your will doesn’t specify your wishes after your death, intestacy rules apply – when someone dies without a will or the will doesn’t outline what happens next. Your estate could be divided up differently to your wishes.

Your financial circumstances change

It could be that you inherit a substantial sum of money, property, or part of another person’s estate – this would be another valid reason for reviewing your will. Given a change in financial circumstances, you might want to change the provisions made to others in your will.

You move house

Whether you are upsizing, downsizing, buying a new or second property, again this may mean you want to change how and to who you want to allocate your changing estate. Also, if you are buying a property with a new partner, married or unmarried, as tenants in common, then you may wish to include details of the right to occupy the house, should one of you die.

Protecting assets

You may wish to consider looking at protecting your estate to ensure that it ultimately passes to your chosen beneficiaries, while still providing for your surviving spouse or partner during his or her lifetime, using a trust.

This will involve looking at the ownership of assets to make sure they pass in accordance with your will, rather than to the surviving joint owner absolutely. For example, we may need to look at severing the joint tenancy in your property and putting into place rights of occupation or use for the surviving owner.

More help and advice

This is by no means an exhaustive list of reasons for why you might need to review and renew your will – everyone’s set of circumstances are different and there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to writing wills.

It is important that you speak with an experienced legal professional to help guide you through your unique situation and specific wishes. Our wills, probate, and trusts team at Coodes can help you to review your will or even write a new one. If you would like more help or information, please complete our online form, or give us a call on 0800 328 3282 to discuss your options.

Tue 24th Jan 2023

Alan Gates


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