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Why you should keep your Will regularly updated

On behalf of Attwaters Jameson Hill posted in Wills on Tuesday, May 28th, 2024

Andrew Flannagan, Head of our Wills, Trusts & Probate department, has decades of experience in estate administration, tax planning, Wills and Powers of Attorney. In this blog, he explains why making a Will is not enough – you have to keep it up to date, too.

As an experienced Wills & Probate lawyer, I have seen first-hand the unfortunate consequences of failing to update one’s Will. Families can be devastated by outdated Wills that don’t reflect recent developments, causing a huge amount of stress and emotional upheaval at an already difficult time. It can also lead to hostility and disputes between family members when promises made verbally by the deceased have not been reflected in their Will.

So, when should you update your Will?

Life is full of changes and surprises, some of which will impact how you want your assets to be divided after death. However, if your new wishes aren’t reflected in your Will, then legally your estate has to be allocated according to your previous wishes, whether or not this is what you want.

Below, I will go through some of the most common circumstances whereby updating your Will is highly advisable.

  • Marriage

Many people are unaware that getting married will automatically invalidate any previous Will that they may have made. This means that intestacy laws will apply if they die without making a new Will.

  • Divorce or separation

Unlike marriage, a divorce does not automatically cancel out your Will. This means that you will have to amend your Will to ensure that it reflects your new life circumstances. Otherwise, your ex-spouse could still stand to benefit under your Will.

If you do not have a Will and are separated or estranged from your ex-partner or spouse, then it is even more vital to have a Will drafted professionally by a solicitor. I myself have seen cases where couples were separated but still married, and one of the estranged spouses died before the divorce went through. All the deceased’s assets legally had to go to their ex-spouse, with their new partner inheriting nothing.

  • Buying a property or moving house

Buying a home will inevitably change the value of your estate, meaning your Will should be updated accordingly to reflect this change in circumstance. If you are buying a home with somebody as tenants in common, you will be able to leave your share of the property to whomever you like in your Will (unlike a joint tenants arrangement, where your share in the property automatically transfers to your co-buyer). You should therefore update your Will to specify the beneficiary to whom you would like to transfer your share in the property upon your death.

  • Somebody mentioned in your Will predeceases you

If the executor or any of the beneficiaries you have named in your Will predecease you, this is a clear sign that you should update your Will. 

If your executor dies before you and you do not update your Will, then the Non-Contentious Probate Rules (NCPR) may apply (unless you have named multiple executors). These rules outline who will be responsible for administering an estate, and it may end up being somebody that you would not have chosen yourself. 

If a beneficiary predeceases you, their inheritance will ‘fail’ – i.e., it will normally remain inside of your estate and distributed amongst your surviving beneficiaries.

  • You have a child or grandchild

If you welcome new life into the world, whether as parents or grandparents, then it is highly likely that you will want to amend your Will to include the new baby, whether that involves leaving an inheritance in trust for them or making bequests of sentimental value. 

Do I need to review my Will outside of these circumstances?

I always advise that my clients take a look at their Will with their solicitor every five years or so, just to ensure that it continues to reflect their current wishes. Even small changes in circumstances can add up over the years and your Will can become outdated without you even noticing.

For small changes, I’d advise using a codicil – an additional legal document that allows you to tweak the contents of an existing Will. If you are making significant or multiple changes, however, I would advise that you draft a new Will (and destroy your old Will and any copies) to avoid confusion for your executors and beneficiaries.

Update your Will today

If your circumstances have recently changed and you think it’s time to review your existing Will, or you would like to draft a Will from scratch, I’d be delighted to hear from you.

My team and I have vast experience with all aspects of creating and amending Wills and can ensure that yours is professionally drafted to carry out your exact wishes.

Please do get in touch to book an appointment.

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