A person’s circumstances change as they get older – they may marry or have children, or face the difficulties of bereavement or the break-up of relationships. It’s usual and sensible for people to adjust their finances and other affairs as their circumstances evolve - and their will should be a very important part of that planning.
As a rule of thumb, you should review your will every five years or so, even if you don’t think your circumstances have changed significantly. This will enable you to check that it still accurately reflects the way you would like your estate to be distributed after you die. And there are reasons beyond your control that mean it’s worth reviewing your will. You can find a quick guide on how to do this on our page How do I review my will?
A change in the law can mean that it is a good idea to check your will is as effective as possible. In particular, key changes to watch out for are changes to property law, family law or, most commonly, inheritance tax changes.
Is the executor or personal representative you named still the person you want to handle your estate? Is the executor no longer able to handle the responsibility, either because they may have become ill, moved away, or died themselves? Equally, if a beneficiary named in the will has died you may wish to name someone else instead.
As well as including any new gifts, you should also consider whether any gifts you have already specified in your will need to be changed. For example, if you have a gift that is ‘£5,000 to my godson Harry’, is this still the sum you wish Harry to receive?
Most importantly, you need to review your will after any major life events. Some particularly important times to review your will are:
Any will you have is automatically revoked by a marriage or civil partnership.
This means that it will lose its legal effect, and will not have an impact on what happens to your estate. Instead, your estate will be governed by the intestacy rules. To retain control over your estate, it is important to create a new will as soon as possible.
There is an exception to this rule if the will specifically states that you were already planning to marry or become a civil partner when you were making the will. In practical terms, this usually applies when the couple’s marriage or civil partnership is imminent.
Unlike entering into a marriage or civil partnership, divorce or dissolution does not revoke the will but automatically deprives your former spouse or civil partner of any benefit they may have received under the will. Any gifts or legacies for other beneficiaries remain intact. This would mean that your estate would be distributed differently, and you should review your will to make sure that things are dealt with in the way you want.
While you should aim to review your will as regularly as possible, the birth of a child or grandchild should act as a reminder to do so. Most importantly, it is the ideal moment to decide whether to update your will to make provision for the new member of your family. For more information on the options available, please see our page What to include in a will.
While there is a lot to think about when moving house, it should also act as a reminder to review your will. As a minimum, it is important to update the address of your house. However, if the move means you have more or less cash in your estate it may also mean updating any individual gifts or bequests. For the same reason, after any significant change in your financial situation you should also review your will - either to include additional bequests or gifts, or to reduce the amount given to individual beneficiaries.
You should check that the value of your estate is still sufficient to meet the bequests you wish to make. If specific legacies make up more in value than your estate is worth, then there will be no residuary estate. So it might be that property would have to be sold in order to satisfy those specific gifts. If you don’t want to run that risk, then you should always be aware of how much in individual gifts you are leaving as a proportion of your estate.
You should review your will to keep abreast of the changes to your estate. House values do not always increase in value, and investments which rely on stock market movements can also fluctuate. If you have savings, these may be comparatively safe, but their value may not increase in the same way as property. All of this means that when you die the value of what you leave to different beneficiaries may not be as you intended.