It can be incredibly easy to breathe a sigh of relief after getting a Will and Estate Plan done, congratulating ourselves on securing our legacy and a future for our loved ones. We happily file away the paperwork and then forget about it.
But what many people don’t realise is just how important it is to ensure your Will is up-to-date.
The sad reality is that an out-of-date Will can cause just as much heartache and confusion for your loved ones, at a time they are grieving, as having no Will at all.
It’s a good idea to regularly review your Will. You may even like to use your driver’s licence renewal date as a reminder to check your Will.
However there are key life events or changes in your situation that should also trigger updating your Will.
When to Update Your Will
1. A person named in the Will has died
- Whether this is a beneficiary, Executor or guardian, it’s important to update your Will in these circumstances.
2. New people need to be named
- If you marry – marriage revokes a Will unless the Will has been specifically made in anticipation of a particular marriage. You will also probably want to make a provision for your new spouse and any step-children.
- If you have a new live-in partner – if you are living with a new partner they may also have an entitlement. You should consider making specific provision for them.
- The birth or adoption of a child or grandchild – you may want to change your Will to include a gift for them, even if it’s just has sentimental value. You may need to nominate wishes for how a dependent will be cared for.
- Key Individuals – you have a new General and Enduring Power of Attorney, Executor or guardian.
3. Divorce or separation
- If you divorce – divorce automatically cancels any bequest made to a former spouse, so if you do want an ex-spouse to benefit in any way you must state this.
- If you separate – if you are separated from a spouse but not divorced, he or she still has a legal claim on your estate, no matter how long you have been apart.
4. Asset changes
- Changes in the value of your estate – you may suddenly find that there is a significant change in your financial circumstances. You might, for example, have received an inheritance yourself. Equally, of course, the value of your assets may have decreased. You need to think about changing your Will to take this into account.
- Cash legacies – you should also bear in mind the effects on cash legacies. What you thought was a substantial gift may turn out to be worth a lot less at the time or your death. It could make sense to state a percentage rather than a fixed sum or make the legacy index linked.
5. Your Wishes Have Changed
- Change of mind – You may decide that you would rather one particular friend or family member receive a gift than another. You may wish to change the Guardians you have appointed for your children. There might be a charity not previously mentioned which you would like to benefit.
- Gift reallocation – you may want to change who you have nominated to receive a gift. If you don’t reallocate the gift, it will become part of your residuary estate, that is, what is left of the estate once all the specific gifts in the Will have been made. It is then up to the Executor to determine what happens to the gift.
6. Personal Details Have Changed
- Personal information – you may need to update personal information, contact details if you have moved, or even include instructions about digital assets, such as online and social media account login details.
7. A Named Dependent Comes of Age
- A child turns 18 – when a child is no longer a dependent, or doesn’t need a guardian any longer you will need to change your Will.
8. Illness or Medical Changes
- You or a loved ones’ medical needs have changed – this may require nominating an Enduring Power of Attorney, Advance Health Directive or in the case of a dependent, you may want to make provisions for their care.
How to Update Your Will
The easiest method of changing your Will is with a Codicil but this is only suitable for relatively minor changes or additions. If you want to make more significant changes, you should make a new Will. In either case you should speak to a suitably qualified expert who can advise you on the best course of action.