When Should I Make Or Review A Will? 13 Key Trigger Points21st Nov 2018
Dying without a will can leave your bereaved family with huge legal problems at a time when they are stricken with grief and least able to cope.
Making a will can never assuage the huge loss they feel but it will spare them the legal upheavals that they might otherwise face.
Trouble is…you’re very busy. You don’t have the time, budget or inclination to make a will. But it’s really important so you should make time (it doesn’t take that long).
And wills are not that expensive – not when you consider what your family could lose if you don’t have one and the worst happens.
As one of the Poole solicitors who specialise in probate, I understand that writing your will is not your top priority. You have more pressing concerns that require your immediate attention.
But there are certain times when the important job of making a will becomes even more vital. These are the key trigger points…
1. You’re Not Getting Any Younger
You can make a will from the age of 18 years (or from 16 years if you’re in the Army or Royal Navy).
It is easy to feel immortal when you’re young. You may have decades to go before your twilight years and but that’s no excuse for not planning ahead.
Sadly we all know people who died young, suddenly, without warning and without a will.
2. Impending Danger
Are you about to go on an extreme adventure holiday? Or visiting a part of the world that isn’t as safe as the UK?
Our solicitors regularly receive calls from people wanting a last minute will before they dash off somewhere exciting.
It’s a good idea to think about a will in these circumstances…and an even better one to plan ahead. So please don’t leave it until a few days before jetting off. It pays to plan ahead.
3. You’re Moving House
Getting on the property ladder – buying a home of your own – is the big dream for most people. It’s a big investment that comes with even bigger responsibilities. (For more on this, talk to our conveyancing solicitors.)
And one of those responsibilities is ensuring that your family will still have that roof over their heads in the unlikely event of you dying prematurely.
This is one of the big ‘will triggers’. Now you’ve bought a home you can’t say you have nothing to leave your loved ones.
4. A Major Change In Financial Circumstances
Not many of us will win the lottery but there are other ways of suddenly becoming much wealthier. A large inheritance or a promotion with big bonuses can also bring windfalls.
And by the same token, you may also fall on hard times.
Either way, a significant change in your finances is a big wake-up call when it comes to wills and probate. If you swiftly become richer or poorer then it is time to make or review your will.
Failure to do so risks leaving your will out of date and at risk from legal loopholes or technicalities.
5. Getting Married
This is a hugely important event in anyone’s life event. You have made a legal commitment to take care of your loved one for as long as you both shall live.
Your spouse has a legal status. The law recognises them as a key potential beneficiary should you die intestate (ie, without a will).
Marriage renders any previous will null and void. So you will need to make a new one (unless the will is written in contemplation of that marriage). And if you’ve never had a will, this is a key time to draft one.
What about cohabitees? Long-term partners? Regrettably they have no legal status. The idea of so-called ‘common law marriage rights’ is a complete myth so beware. There are signs that the law may be amended to reflect changing society but that has yet to happen.
6. The Birth Of A Child
Another huge happy event. And another important reason to make or update your will.
You can leave bequests ‘to my children’ or you can name them in the will. There are pros and cons to either approach.
By naming them you can be absolutely certain that each child will receive the bequest that you intend. But your will is going to need updating when any new offspring arrive. We can advise you to help you decide how best to word your will.
7. Separation Or Divorce
You will need to make a will (or change any existing will) if you separate and/or divorce. Until you complete your divorce, your spouse is entitled to inherit if you die without a will.
Your relationship may be over but they are still legally your spouse until you divorce. That makes them a potential beneficiary under wills and probate law…unless you specify otherwise in your will.
8. Remarriage Voids Your Previous Wills
Getting hitched again? Review your will – otherwise you risk accidentally disinheriting any children from your first marriage!
As mentioned previously, marriage overrides any previous wills.
And if you die without a will, your estate will go to your new wife and her family – leaving any offspring from your first family with nothing.
Remarriage is a really important time to think about wills, a crucial trigger so don’t delay. Your children’s future depends on you grasping the nettle and doing the right thing.
9. Death Of A Loved One
What would happen if someone very close to you suddenly passed away? Does your will take account of what would happen if they predeceased you?
Who will inherit your worldly goods if the person you love most in the world is no longer at your side?
It is a hard and painful question to have to ask yourself, but one day the unthinkable may happen. The sad and unavoidable truth is that none of us lives forever.
An all-too-easy option is to keep putting off writing a will…but that is no way to care for those who matter most to us above all else.
10. Change In Tax Planning Arrangements
As your financial and family circumstances change, so must your tax planning arrangement – otherwise you risk incurring a significant Inheritance Tax liability. IHT is paid at 40 per cent.
Also, IHT rules change and your tax planning must evolve to take account of this. How you draft your will – and whether or not you decide to create a trust – could determine the financial future of your family.
11. Change Of Executor(s)
Who will administer your estate after you have gone?
What if the person you previously named as an executor has died, moved away or – for one reason or another – is no longer able to discharge this important legal duty?
Changing your executor(s) means updating your will. It is also a good opportunity to review other aspects of your will to ensure that it is still legally fit for purpose.
12. Taking Out Powers of Attorney
People who take out powers of attorney (you may need more than one) do so because they are worried about losing their mental or physical capacity.
They want to nominate someone they trust to take decisions on their behalf when they are no longer able to do so themselves.
At the same time it makes sense to make or review a will (and any other important legal documents) before mental capacity diminishes, becomes sporadic or is lost forever.
13. Impending Death
Sir Ken Dodd married his long-term partner Anne just two days before he died. This enabled him to bequeath his estate to her with no Inheritance Tax liability.
Sometimes our solicitors are called out to help a dying client with a deathbed will. They may have just days or a few hours to live.
And when the end comes, as it comes to us all, you will want to spend your last few hours in this world surrounded by the people who mean the most to you, rather than going through legal documents.
Life does not always give us time to prepare for such moments. But it is better to have prepared in advance than to leave it until the final few hours.
Get Expert Legal Advice
The scenarios outlined above are some of the more typical ones that people face in life – but there are plenty of others that could prompt you to think about writing or reviewing your will.
As a rule of thumb, if there has been a major change in your family or financial circumstances, consider reviewing your will.
Find out more – book a chat with one of our wills solicitors to discuss your options.