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When should I change my Will?

A couple sitting at their table at home asking themselves: "When should I change my Will?"

“When should I change my Will?” Some of the reasons are obvious, others less so. But before we get into them, think back to where you were and what you were doing five years ago. What has changed in your life since then?

There’s a good chance that one or two things have changed at least. So it’s a good time to dust off the Will you made back then and see if it needs revising. Making a Will checklist can be helpful too.

Whilst you should look at your Will at least every five years, there are a few milestone events that should trigger you to review it immediately. So if you find yourself asking, “When should I change my Will?”, here are a few reasons to reconsider your wishes.

You got married (or entered into a civil Partnership)

This is a big one. If you made a Will previously, that Will is now null and void. Unless, that is, your old Will had a sentence that said the Will was made “in anticipation of” marriage or civil partnership. If it doesn’t, your marriage has revoked it – and civil partnership has the same effect. So for now, your assets are going to pass by the strict rules of intestacy. This may not be what you want to happen, especially if you have children.

You have a new partner

If you’ve met someone new, you might want to benefit them in a new Will. And if things are getting serious, that new Will could include a “contemplation of marriage” clause so that it’s not revoked when you tie the knot. Another consideration is that someone you’ve lived with for two years – a cohabitee – is entitled to make a claim against your estate if you die. So it’s worth bearing that in mind if you share a home together. And if you or your new partner, or both, have children from previous relationships, you’ll probably want to make some sort of provision for everyone.

You got divorced or separated

If you’ve got divorced, any gifts to your ex-spouse in your existing Will are null and void. However, unless they’ve remarried, they are still entitled to make a claim under the 1975 (Provision for Family and Dependends) Act. You might want to make a new Will to guard against such a claim. If you’re merely separated and not yet divorced, you should make a new Will right away. That’s because your spouse is still going to receive an inheritance from you if you pass away – either in your existing Will or via the rules of intestacy if you don’t have a Will.

You’ve had a child

So you have a new addition to your family – congratulations! Having children, whether by birth or adoption, means you should definitely make a Will because you’ll want to appoint guardians. Guardians are the people you want to look after your children if both of their natural parents have passed away. If you don’t make a Will, a court is going to decide who they should live with, and where they live, if this happened. If you’ve named children in your previous Will and you’ve since had more, you’ll want to ensure that nobody loses out.

A beneficiary has died

There may be someone in your Will who has passed away. While a gift to them will automatically fail, it’s worth considering the other effects of their passing. Who, if anyone, is in line to inherit their share instead? Will others inherit more as a result? You may not need to make any changes but it doesn’t hurt to look at it again.

Guardians are now too old or ill (or both)

The guardians are the people you appoint to look after your children if both of their natural parents have passed away. Many people appoint their own parents – the childrens’ grandparents – in this role. But while grandparents are suitable appointments for a few years, it’s worth reviewing this in light of their age and health.

Your financial circumstances have changed

Do you have more assets than you had when you made your previous Will? If so, do you still want to give it to the same people in the same shares? Also, if you have more assets you may want to look at doing some inheritance tax planning, either in your will or separately.
Or do you have less money now? If so, it’s worth looking at any specific gifts of money you put in the previous will, just to make sure they’re enough in your estate to cover them.

Your beneficiaries’ financial circumstances have changed

It may be that a beneficiary has had a change in financial circumstances too. So perhaps one child is more in need of the money than another child. Or perhaps there’s a child who’s received more money from you in lifetime and so you wish to leave them less in the Will. Just be aware of that a child left a lesser share may make a claim against the estate so you should take advice if this is the case.

You’ve had a falling out

Sadly it happens. You want to cut someone out of the Will, or leave them a lesser share. Or perhaps the fallout was in the past and that person has now come back into the fold. Either way, you’ll want to change the share you intended to leave them in the previous Will. But do be aware that in some circumstances this could lead to a claim against your estate under the Provision for Family and Dependents Act 1975.

You’ve sold or given away something mentioned in your Will

This might be a property, a car or any other asset. If you’ve already given it away, it clearly cannot be passed on as a specific gift in your Will. The gift will simply fail because the beneficiary of that gift can’t receive it. They can’t receive a substitute item or gift of money instead.

You bought or acquired property abroad?

Many people like to buy property abroad given the opportunity. Who wouldn’t want to own a villa in Spain? Well if you do own one, you’ll want to make sure it’s covered by your current Will or else you’ve made separate arrangements for it. Either way, do check what your current Will says.

You started a business

Businesses run from sole traders to partnerships and limited companies. The situation as regards inheritance is different for each type. If you’ve started a business since you last made a Will, do review your Will and consider whether changes are necessary. You might need to specify who inherits the business and its assets, and whether or not you wish the business to continue or be wound up.

Executors are no longer suitable

Have any of your executors died, fallen ill or moved abroad? Perhaps you’ve fallen out with them, you’ve lost contact, or there’s some other reason they can’t act. For all these reasons, you’ll want to change your Will. Remember that executors do all the estate admin after you’ve died, so you’ll need people who are physically and mentally capable of acting.

Beneficiaries are now classed as vulnerable

What if your beneficiaries are now receiving care? If they receive an inheritance from you, that will only be spent on care fees. Likewise, if a beneficiary is receiving state benefits, inheriting from you could mean that they lose their inheritance.

Summary

So what is the answer to, “When should I change my Will?” You probably won’t be surprised that there’s no fixed answer – it depends on your wishes and personal circumstances. In my experience, you should revisit your Will at least every five years. However, there are numerous triggers in life that make it prudent to make a new one if they apply to you. If you feel you need to change or update your Will and you live in or near Bristol in the UK, we’d be happy to help.

The information contained in these articles is for general interest purposes only. We take every precaution to ensure that the information is correct at the time of publishing but errors can occur. Given the changing nature of laws, rules and regulations, there may be omissions or inaccuracies in the information. Bristol Wills & Estate Planning Ltd is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for any results obtained from the use of this information. You should never rely on the information in these articles as a substitute for professional legal advice, whether from Bristol Wills & Estate Planning or any other legal service or professional.

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