The pandemic brought our mortality to the forefront of our minds, especially in those early weeks and months when we weren’t sure what to expect. There was a huge uptick in the number of wills being established at that time, but it’s important to keep your will in mind more regularly than when you have a health scare.
While we often think of wills as something we don’t want to think about, the reason why we need to keep them updated are often positive in nature – we get married, have new children or grandchildren to include, and have more abundance in our lives to share with our loved ones and the people and causes we care about after we pass. So, what should you be looking for and how often should you review and update your will?
What should I review in my will?
Life moves quickly, and so it can be easy to forget that something major has happened that you need to account for in your will. Here is a list of things to review:
- The address of your primary residence
- Any new property purchases (or sales) you’ve made since your last review
- Changes in marital status
- Any new children or grandchildren that you would like to include in your will
- Any changes in your beneficiaries, including charities and causes if applicable
- Significant changes in your assets, such as cash, investments in stocks, businesses, or collectables
- Any changes in taxation that may alter how you choose to divide your estate
- Check you are still happy (and able) to continue with your chosen executor – this doesn’t have to be a family member, it can be a trusted friend, accountant, or solicitor (just avoid any professional that charges a percentage of the value of the estate for the pleasure)
- Review if everything still feels good to you and that your wishes are accurately expressed – you can update your will whenever you like, so if you’re not happy with something but are worried you’ll want to change it again in the future, you can go ahead and make those changes.
Doing this can feel like looking over the same thing year after year, but a will that is incorrect can cause siginficiant trouble for those you leave behind. At best, this may lead to squabbles, but at worst you may leave someone out entirely. If you remarry or find a new life partner later in life, make sure you make provisions for your partner in your will, as you can’t always rely on your biological or extended family to take care of “new” people in your life the way you would like.
How often should I review my will?
You should review and update your will after every major life event, though it’s sometimes easy to forget to do this if you’re swept away with adjusting to the new change. The government website recommends you review your will once every 5 years, but a lot can happen in that time. The best thing to do is to set an annual review date so you know you’ll at least look over it annually to check that it’s still correct. You could pair this with another task, such as reviewing your life insurance policy, or choose an arbitrary date – as long as you set it in your calendar and remember to do it!
How do I update my will?
You can make changes to your will at any time, but you can’t officially “change” your will once it’s been signed and witnessed (though you can make a new one, which we’ll address momentarily). Making an alteration to the will is simple and it’s called a “codicil”. You can add these codicils (think of them as amendments) at any time and there’s no limit to how many you add. You simply need to sign and get a witness to sign them the same way you would for making a new will.
If you’re making a major change, you can go ahead and make a new will. This is also a good choice if you don’t want your family to see the various iterations of your will will. When you make a new will, you need to state that any previous wills and codicils are revoked and destroy any evidence you find of those previous wills.
What other considerations should I consider when I update my will?
You’re free to set out your will in whichever way feels best to you, but here are some additional points to consider to help you review your will:
- Have you chosen a gardian for your children, if they’re still young? Are you happy with the gardian you’ve chosen?
- You should be as specific as possible when laying out your will to help reduce negative feelings within the family, and so there’s no room for debate about what you really want.
- You may need, or want, to get more recent valuations of your assets so you know there true value, especially if you’re giving assets to your beneficiaries in place of cash.
- If you put off reviewing your will because you don’t want to figure out how to divide your estate, you can often use language like, “divide my estate equally between my children.” This can be a good way to divide an asset between multiple beneficiaries. This works best with assets that can easily be divided equally – it doesn’t always work so well with tangible assets, especially if you’re not certain of the value. For example, if you had 3 cars and 3 children, and you state that you want them divided equally, but one is a Farrari worth £175,000, and the other two are classic Mercedes with a value of around £70,000, then you’re going to get some arguments.
- Where it’s kept, and whether the right people know where it is. Make sure your will is in a place where it is protected and that multiple people know it’s location. Family members dusting off an old lost dusty will from a hidden office drawer makes a good plot point in a story, but is not practical in real life!
- Do you want to include any letters or communication with anyone? This is also a good place to explain or go into further depth about how you want your will to be executed.
What should I avoid when I update my will?
The main thing to avoid is ambiguous or vague language. You need it to be clearly understood, even if you don’t plan to personally assign each asset to your beneficiary, but instead ask that they be divided equally. If you do this, it may be a good idea to use additional language to ensure that those assets truly are divided as equally as possible.
Also, don’t be tempted to leave off an asset you plan to sell or let go of in the near future – if you were to pass suddenly before you sell the asset, it can cause significant difficulty.
Upating your will isn’t something you’ll want to make time to do, especially since it can be a pain to seek out an impartial witness who can sign for you. However, it really is the best way to ensure your assets are divided between your beneficiaries in the way you want, and to financially protect the people and causes you care about most.