Changing a Will
Making necessary modifications later
So you've made your Will and made the appropriate preparations for the future. But will it always be valid? While you are always far better off having made a Will, you still should bear in mind that certain changes in your circumstances may mean that it becomes outdated. Sometimes, changing a Will becomes necessary.
Things which can affect a Will
There are several common life changes which could affect your Will.
Any Will created prior to a marriage will be invalidated by the marriage unless special provision is made within the Will itself. If you are making a Will and know that you will be soon be getting married, it is possible to specify that the Will should endure – however, if you did not foresee the marriage when you put together the Will, or if no provisions were included, then you will have to make a new one to provide for your new circumstances. These rules also apply to civil partnerships.
Getting divorced does not invalidate the entire Will, but it does cancel any part of it which names your spouse as a beneficiary. As with marriage, it is possible to specify in a Will that you would like your spouse to remain as beneficiary even if you were to divorce. However, this is rarely done as no married couple wants to imagine that they will end up getting divorced, and if it does occur then the relationship may have deteriorated to the point where they would not want their spouse as a beneficiary anyway.
Also note that if you should name your spouse as an executor of your estate and then get divorced, they are no longer legally entitled to act in this role. If you failed to name more than one executor, this means the rules of intestacy will be used to determine who is responsible for administering your estate. This will usually mean your next of kin is granted responsibility over your property and possessions – which may not be what you wanted. This is one of several reasons for ensuring that you name more than one executor in your Will.
As with marriage, these rules are also applicable to the dissolution of a civil partnership.
Changes to your estate
If you lose a lot of money which you had planned to leave to beneficiaries, or you sell or lose possessions or property which were promised to someone in your Will, this can cause problems when your estate is administered. While it will probably not invalidate the Will, it will complicate the process for the people you have elected to be executors, and some of your beneficiaries may end up losing out. This means that it’s very important to update your Will if there are significant changes to what you own.
If you’ve optimised your Will to minimise Inheritance Tax (IHT), changes in the rate could easily affect your preparations. Furthermore, attempts to reduce IHT may incur other taxes, such as Capital Gains Tax, and if these rates increase then your strategies for avoiding IHT could leave your beneficiaries worse off. It’s always important to keep an eye on the tax rates, or have an accountant advise you on them, so you can ensure that your Will makes the best use of your available assets.
Change of executors
Unforeseen circumstances may lead to your choice of executors becoming unsuitable. For example, executors may pass away before you do, or ill health may lead to them being unfit to administer your estate. On the other hand, it could be something more mundane – they may rethink the decision to act as executors, your relationship with them may change, or you may decide that you would like your estate to be administered by a professional executor.
Change of beneficiaries
This is usually more of a personal decision than anything that threatens to cause problems with your Will, but you may decide that you wish to remove someone as a beneficiary, add someone new, or change how much or what certain people will receive from your estate. The death of a beneficiary will also affect your Will.
Ways to Change a Will
The difficulty of changing your Will depends on the working practices of the solicitor or service you used to write it in the first place. Some solicitors will insist on rewriting the entire Will and charge the same as if you had wanted to write a new one; others may offer a reduced rate for alterations. This latter approach is becoming increasingly common today, as the use of word processing software makes it far easier to make changes to the original document. Generally, the creation of a new Will is the optimal solution when you want to make changes, as it means that you have an up-to-date document which will specify that any Wills predating it are no longer valid.
However, if your solicitor insists on charging full price, it may be possible to make changes to your Will without having to draft an entirely new one, with the use of a codicil. This is a document which amends one or more sections in your original Will without replacing it entirely. Because a codicil is separate from, and less complicated than, a Will, you will likely be able to get it for a price lower than that of a full rewrite.
A codicil must be signed and witnessed in the same fashion as a Will. It’s important to note that, just as a beneficiary of a Will cannot also serve as a witness, it’s inadvisable for anyone named as a beneficiary in either the Will or the codicil to serve as witness to the codicil’s signing. In some cases, this may invalidate their position as a beneficiary, even if the codicil itself makes no mention of them.
It is becoming general practice nowadays to write a new Will rather than use a codicil, as this method avoids any confusion and ensures that there is no disagreement over which document is valid, but codicils do still have their uses, mostly as a lower cost alternative when dealing with a more traditional solicitor.
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