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Why your Will isn’t set in stone

When someone makes a Will, they rightly expect the wishes they have set out to be carried through. In most cases, that is exactly what happens; the executors distribute assets to the chosen beneficiaries, and deal with all other necessary arrangements to manage the deceased’s affairs.

There are situations in which a Will may be challenged by those who are not set to inherit as expected, or where there are doubts about the validity of the Will: was it forged? Was the Will-maker pressurised into making certain provisions? Did he or she understand what they were signing? If successful, a legal challenge can lead to terms other than those set out in the Will being put into effect. However, those situations do not commonly arise. It is far more likely that that the Will will simply be applied as the Will-maker intended.

But what if those terms reflect ‘old’ wishes? Too few people update their Will over time. And the trouble with that is that the Will that stands to determine inheritance (and other things) may not be a fair reflection of the deceased’s situation in the lead-up to their death. It could lead to the ‘wrong’ people benefiting, and the ‘right’ people missing out. Equally, the financial provisions made may be less beneficial – and perhaps even detrimental – because of changes in the law that may have happened since the Will was made.

Just as you would review your investments, your insurance policies, your future planning, you should periodically check in on your Will. We advise clients to do this annually. This may just involve you casting your eye over the provisions you have made and making sure that they are still appropriate and relevant to where you are in your life. Because that is exactly what a Will is: a reflection of your circumstances and your wishes at a particular time. These things can change, and it’s vital that your Will keeps apace.

As well as revisiting your Will periodically (ideally, with your solicitor), significant events in your life should trigger a review. A new baby in the family, some inheritance, a new house, a relationship breakdown. These are all things that could affect the provisions you have made in your Will, and could mean you need to rethink the allocation of your estate and your provisions for your loved ones’ futures.

In the context of future planning, there is one particularly significant marker in a person’s life: marriage. It’s not just that having a new husband or wife means priorities tend to change. It is also that marriage cancels out any existing Will, so it’s as though no Will had been made. And that can lead to a situation in which a person’s estate is dealt with under the rules of intestacy.

If intestacy applies, the deceased’s possessions will be distributed to particular people, in a particular order. The rules are strict and, of course, the deceased will not have had a say in who inherits. It is not a situation that many people or families would choose to be in. It’s why people make Wills.

Our message is: don’t just make a Will; keep it up-to-date! It really isn’t onerous to do. Your solicitor will be able to draft a ‘codicil’ that will sit alongside your Will, setting out any new provision. This should ensure that the things you intend to happen after your death happen.

For advice about anything to do with Wills, probate or future planning, contact me on 01892 337540 or at emma.howlett@thomasmansfield.com