Having an up-to-date will is important for both you and your family. Here, guest author Alison Beech, partner at Percy Hughes and Roberts Solicitors offers her specialist advice on the topic.

A national survey recently conducted by the team at Percy Hughes & Roberts Solicitors has unearthed some alarming statistics about how much (or how little) thought Britons appear to be putting into writing wills and estate planning.

According to the research: 66% of the population do not have a will; while 69% of those who do have never updated them.

The truth is that having an out-of-date will is as problematic as having no will at all. Sadly a large proportion of adults do not realise the serious legal issues that can arise if they don’t keep on top of their estate planning as an ongoing activity.

On the other hand, those who have a will often do understand the consequences of not updating the document but continue to put it off.

Learn the Rules of Intestacy

One of the main reasons for keeping a will up to date is to ensure that your assets and belongings go to the friends and relatives that you intend to receive them after you die.

The rules of intestacy are the rules that decide with whom an estate should be shared if a person dies without leaving a valid will. Only married or civil partners and some other close relatives are legally entitled to inherit an estate under the rules.

That means if you make a will but it is not valid, the rules of intestacy may well go against the wishes you expressed in your will.

According to the rules, the following people have no right to inherit when someone dies without a valid will:

  • Close friends
  • Unmarried partners
  • Carers
  • Relations by marriage
What does this have to do with keeping your will up to date?

Firstly it important to remember that a will is automatically revoked or cancelled if you get married unless there is a clause in the original will that references a forthcoming marriage. A failure to update an existing will before marriage or create a new one afterwards will lead to an invalidated will that falls under the rules of intestacy.

People who don’t keep their will up-to-date are also more likely to forget where it is. If your will cannot be found following your death and is presumed destroyed – it could lead to your will being overridden by the rules of intestacy.

Reduce the likelihood of family feuds and contested wills

Keeping a will up to date will help reduce the chance of conflicts among family and friends after you have gone.

If you fail to keep your will up to date, it is more likely that you will forget what your will contains.

This could cause problems if you tell family members or friends to expect certain assets or belongings and your will doesn’t reflect this. Setting false expectations of what people might inherit can lead to wills being contested, family disputes, and considerable court costs.

Reduce inheritance tax

As your circumstances and those of your intended beneficiaries change throughout your life, certain updates can make your will more tax-efficient for those charged with administering your estate once you have gone.

For instance: the residence nil-rate band (RNRB). This was designed to reduce the burden of inheritance tax and introduced in April 2017. It is available when a residential property is left to direct descendants.

The RNRB allows you to gain an additional threshold before inheritance tax becomes payable on your estate.

However, many older wills may not necessarily take this into account. This means beneficiaries will not be able to take advantage of this significant tax relief.

When should you update your will?

Many people are unsure when they should update their wills.

A good recommendation is to review and update your will every five years; unless your personal circumstances change, in which case you should update it as soon as possible.

Circumstances that should lead to an updated will include:

  • Having children or grandchildren
  • Marriage
  • Separation from a spouse or civil partner
  • Buying a house
  • If a beneficiary named in your will dies
  • A change in your relationship with a beneficiary or a charity named in your will
  • Your financial situation changing
  • You move to a different country

It is also prudent to update your will if your circumstances haven’t necessarily changed, but:

  • You want to change who you have appointed as guardian for your children
  • You’ve fallen out with a beneficiary and no longer want to include them in your will
  • You have lost contact with or want to change the executor of your estate

Avoiding Disputes

Keeping your will up to date is of great importance. It can help you and your family avoid complex and drawn-out legal disputes further down the line.

If you feel strongly that your loved ones should benefit from your estate when you are no longer here, try to ensure your will remains an evolving document that caters to your changing circumstances and those of your family. 

Find more information on end of life care and planning ahead here.