Surveys show that less than 50% of the UK adult population have made a Will Will Survey. If you are in that wise minority then congratulations – you have already taken important steps to reduce the strain on your family at a difficult time and to leave your assets to the right people.  Of course, preparing a Will is just the first step and it’s important to make sure that it keeps up with your needs.

How often should you review your Will?

A Will is not a legal document that you should simply file away, only to be pulled out again when you die.  You should think of it as a living document, to be kept up to date as your life and circumstances change. 

Your Will should be reviewed every 5 years or after any major changes to your circumstances.  Major changes will usually be events that either substantially change your estate or change the people that you want to leave it to when you die.  Here are some typical life events that should trigger a review:

  • Getting married
  • Getting separated or divorced
  • Having children
  • Buying a property
  • Receiving an inheritance or sizable assets
  • The death of one of your executors or beneficiaries
  • Starting a business
  • Or simply changing your mind about who you would like as beneficiaries

In the simple example of having children, your previous Will may prevent them inheriting from you automatically.  In the case of a separation from your husband or wife, your previous Will may still leave all your assets to them when you would rather leave them to a new partner.

How do you change your Will?

There are two ways you can change your Will.  The first is to add a Codicil (a legal alteration) while the second is to make a whole new Will.  Which is the best option will depend on how extensive the changes are that you want to make.

Option 1 – Adding a Codicil

A codicil is a legal document that is separate to your Will.  It allows you to make amendments to an existing Will instead of rewriting it.  You can add as many codicils as you wish, but it is best to use a codicil to make small changes to your Will.  If you wish to make changes to your main assets (for example your property) it is advisable to rewrite your Will.

One advantage of codicils is that they are cheaper than completely rewriting your Will.  At the same time they bring added risk due to the fact they are separate documents to your original Will.  You should ensure that any codicils are kept with your original Will and make your executors aware of them.  Otherwise you run the risk that they could get lost or ignored and the original terms of your Will could be used instead.

Codicils must be signed and witnessed in the same way as an original Will.  The witness must not benefit from any items in the codicil as it will be invalid if they do.

Codicil quick reference:

  • Make small changes only i.e. changing executors or altering wishes
  • Make sure they are stored alongside your Will
  • Inform your executors where your Will and codicils are kept
  • A witness must not benefit from the codicil otherwise it Will be invalid

Option 2 – Writing a New Will

The simplest and most thorough way of changing your Will is to make a new one.  If you do write a new Will it is essential that you invalidate any old Wills and any codicils that you have previously made.  It is also wise to destroy any old documents to avoid any confusion or challenges to your new Will.

Wring a new Will is more expensive than adding a codicil, but it gives you an opportunity to review all of your circumstances and bring everything up to date.  Drafting a new Will may also allow your assets to be distributed in a way that reduces your inheritance tax liability and maximises the amount that will be passed to your beneficiaries.  Early planning is always recommended if you wish to take full advantage of the tax opportunities that may be available to you.

If you write a new Will with new executors then it is sensible to let the old and new executors know, to avoid any future confusion.  You should also let your new executors know where your Will is stored so they can find it on your death and start the probate process.  Your Will should be stored safely as the original signed paper copy is needed and copies can’t usually be used.

Will Preparation Checklist

If you are thinking of preparing a new Will, here is a brief checklist of information that your professional adviser will need to draft the Will for you.

Details of everything you own i.e. house, cars, valuables, stocks and shares, bank accounts, insurance policies, pensions and any business you own.

Details of family and marital status i.e. married, divorced, remarried, living together or single.  Are there any children or other dependants? 

Executors – the Executors carry out the instructions in your Will.  You can appoint family and/or friends or even Backhouse Solicitors.  You will need to provide their full names and addresses.

Beneficiaries – who gets what – how do you want to divide your property and possessions?  You will again need to provide full names and addresses and whether they are under the age of 18.

Funeral wishes – you may wish to include these in your Will.

Guardians – these can be appointed in your Will for any of your children under the age of 18 years.

Preparing a Will or Codicil – How Backhouse Solicitors can help

At Backhouse Solicitors our experienced team can help with all aspects of preparing and drafting a Will.  We give expert, professional advice and support to help you make the decisions you need and to turn your wishes into an official Will document.  We can also offer estate planning to help minimise your inheritance tax bill and even store your Will in our secure, fireproof storage facilities ready for when it is needed.  Contact us today and book a free initial consultation to find out how we can help you.

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