Having an out of date will can be as dangerous as having no will at all.
If your will is out of date it can mean that those you leave behind will lose a greater share of your estate to pay more inheritance tax than might otherwise be necessary and your will could even cause a dispute between your family and friends falling out over their inheritance.
Disputes can occur when a will is so old that you can no longer recall exactly what it contains. You might find yourself telling your loved ones what you think it contains rather than what will actually happen to your estate when you pass away. If people expect to inherit something and then it turns out they do not have this in the will then there is more likely to be a contested will, which could lead to a family feud and substantial court costs.
It is also common for those who do not keep their will up to date to forget where it is kept. If your will cannot be found after your death then the court can presume that you destroyed it and your estate will be divided up according to a very strict set of legal rules called the Rules of Intestacy – your wishes will be overridden. So keep your will safe in a place where it will be found or, better still, you can send it to us to look after it for you.
When to Revisit or Update Your Will
Generally speaking, you should consider updating your will whenever your circumstances change. The following situations highlight good reasons for you to update your will:
- Buying a house – if you make any large purchases then it is worth updating your will. The average homeowner has over £214,000 worth of property - and estates valued at £325,000 or less can be passed on free of inheritance tax.
- Having children – you should appoint a guardian to raise the children if they are still minors at your death. You will probably want to ensure that a particular item or financial provision is left for them in your will. And you might need to revisit your will each time you have another child or grandchild so as to share the value of your estate or treasured possessions between them.
- If someone dies – if someone named in your will passes away then you should consider if you need to rewrite it. This could be someone you left a gift to, someone who was a guardian or perhaps an executor of your will.
- Separating – if you separate from your husband or wife then you should change your will. If you die before your divorce is finalised they could still be entitled to gifts from you, which you now may want to give to others.
- Marriage or remarriage – getting married or remarried after making a will automatically invalidates your will which could, for example, leave your children from your previous relationship financially unprotected in the event of your death.
If your circumstances haven’t changed then I would recommend that you review your will at least every three years. There is usually room to update your will in a few different places even if your own personal circumstances have remained unchanged, for example:
- Where you have fallen out with a beneficiary and you no longer wish to include them in your will;
- Where you have lost touch with the executor of your will – this can include where your executor is a solicitor if the firm has closed down; or
- Revising who you have appointed as guardian for your children because the person you have chosen is no longer appropriate, perhaps because of old age or because they have moved abroad.
To protect your wealth in accordance with your wishes contact the wills and probate solicitors at Slater and Gordon on freephone 0800 916 9056 or contact us online and we will be happy to assist.
John Fawcett is a wills, tax, trusts and probate lawyer based in the Slater and Gordon Sheffield office. He heads up our offices in Yorkshire and the Midlands.