The dawning of a New Year is always a good time to take stock. Many people will reflect over the last 12 months and think about ways they can improve their outlook for the year ahead. Often, New Year’s resolutions have a focus on lifestyle – doing more exercise, eating a better diet and cutting back on alcohol often top the list, despite many people breaking their resolutions after only a week or two!
But what about taking a more long-term view and setting the groundwork for a better future for your loved ones?
One way this can be done is to make a Will, or if you already have a Will in place, review it.
Advice given on the Government website suggests that you should review your Will at least every five years, and this is certainly a useful rule of thumb to follow. However, several other circumstances should trigger you to review your Will.
In this blog, we’ll look at some of the most compelling reasons to consider a review of your Will.
Major events in life
Certain events in life may mean the contents of the Will you already have in place are no longer appropriate. For example, if you have children or buy a property, you will most likely want to update your Will to reflect the change in circumstances. Similarly, your family may have extended to include grandchildren or other relatives, who you may want to make provision for in your Will. Doing this is usually a fairly straightforward process and can be made by way of making an official alteration called a codicil. Codicils must be signed and witnessed for them to become legal content of a Will.
Sadly, it isn’t uncommon for named beneficiaries to pass away, and in such circumstances, it is likely you will need to rethink how your assets are divided amongst your remaining beneficiaries. If you have named an executor in your Will and they die during your lifetime, you must amend this. In the instance that you don’t, the State will decide who will be the administrator of your estate.
Marriage, divorce and cohabitation
If you separate or divorce from a named beneficiary in your Will, your Will takes effect as if your former spouse or civil partner had died on the date that the decree absolute or the dissolution of the partnership was issued. This means that any gift that you made to them in your Will does not take effect.
If you still want your former spouse or civil partner to be a beneficiary in your Will, you would need to expressly state this.
Some major life events, such as getting married or remarrying, actually revoke the Will you had in place beforehand. As such, you will need to make a new Will once you are married. If you do not, it will be treated as if you did not have a Will, meaning the intestacy rules will automatically apply to your estate.
As outlined in our blog about deathbed marriages, cohabiting couples are not afforded the rights that are extended to married couples. Therefore, should you have entered into a long-term relationship since you made your Will but have not married or entered into a civil partnership, you may want to consider making provision for your partner in your Will.
Changes to your wishes
During life, the ways in which you feel about certain things and/or people can and do change. In the sad circumstances that family members become estranged, it will often be the case that a Will is amended to no longer include them. Conversely, you may have become closer to an individual than you were previously, leaving you to want to make a provision for them in the future.
If you or a loved one have become involved or perhaps benefited from the help of a charity, you may want to leave a charitable donation in your Will.
Changes in legislation
Decisions relating to the treatment of your assets are made within the framework of the laws in place at the time of writing a Will. However, on occasion, new legislation comes into place that may affect the provisions you have set out, particularly in relation to tax. For example, a major new piece of legislation concerning inheritance tax was introduced in April 2017 in the form of a main residence allowance. Where a Will has been in place for some time, it may be worth consulting with your solicitor to ensure that the division of your assets still makes sense from a tax efficiency perspective.
And if you haven’t got a Will in place, now is the time to make one!
There are several reasons why people choose not to make a Will – often, people think their possessions and assets will automatically pass to their spouse or children. Some people simply find it too difficult to face the thought of their mortality. Planning for what will happen in the event of your death is never easy, but making a Will can bring a significant sense of peace of mind for you and your family.
This is especially true in today’s society, where it is not uncommon for families to consist of children from previous relationships and those from the new one. In such instances, the rules of intestacy that apply if you die without a Will may not provide for your blood relatives as you would have wished. As such, it is vital that you make a Will so that your assets can be treated as per your wishes and that every eventuality is accounted for.
For further advice or assistance on making or amending your Will, please get in touch with Rebecca at Rebecca@odonnellsolicitors.co.uk or on 01457 761320.
Rebecca O’Donnell is Head of Private Client at O’Donnell Solicitors.