Most people don’t have a Will. And of those who do, many are not kept up to date. We often hear from people who prepared a Will decades ago, sometimes before they had children. They have a sense of knowing that their Will is in place, but they know in their heart that the Will is out-of-date, and probably doesn’t reflect their wishes. They need to update a Will, but they are not sure how to do it in the most cost effective way.
Unfortunately, the traditional approach to writing a Will is expensive and inconvenient. The same applies to updating a Will. The reason why people don’t update their Will is that same reason that most people don’t have a Will at all – there simply isn’t the time to get it done.
Fortunately, there are now a number of options to making sure that your Will is up-to-date.
When do I need to update my Will?
1. If your Will is automatically cancelled.
There is only one situation where your Will ceases to function (other than the document being destroyed) – If you get married, and your Will was written before you got married (unless the Will specifically states that it was written in contemplation of marriage).
It can actually be a reasonably likely scenario. You may have a Will in place, you are getting married at the weekend, and then heading to Mexico for your honeymoon.
The chances are that you will not have an opportunity to write a new Will between getting married and leaving for your honeymoon, so it makes sense to prepare a Will in contemplation of that marriage. It is of course unlikely to be needed, but if you are traveling anywhere, it’s a good idea to have a Will in place.
2. Your circumstances change
There are a number of personal changes in circumstance that warrant another look at your Will, even though your Will is technically still valid, it probably no longer reflects your wishes.
If you get divorced, then your Will considers your ex-spouse to have pre-deceased you. So everything will now be distributed according to your alternate plan (most well written Wills have a distribution plan, and an alternate plan in case the first one doesn’t work out).
The most obvious occasions for writing a new Will are a change in your marital status. If you get married, divorced, separated or widowed, you should write a new Will. Your existing Will almost certainly no longer applies if your marital status changes (and in the case of getting married, your Will is automatically cancelled).
If you have a new child, or lose a child. Or if your children become adults, you should update your Will. If your children get married, or have children of their own, it is a good time to review your Will and make sure that it still makes sense.
Clearly if your family grows, and you have children, you should take another look at your Will. You would need to name guardians for your children, and set up trusts for them. The distribution plan for your estate (or more likely your alternate plan) would need to be revised.
For example, if you are married without children, you may have everything going to your spouse, and then if you were both involved in an accident at the same time, you could, as a backup plan, have everything going to your siblings.
If you then have children, your alternate plan would change to have everything going to your children instead, even if they are babies.
There may be a change in your financial circumstances. This may be an unexpected windfall, or the acquisition of another asset. You may want to make provision for that new asset in the Will. For example, you have left ten percent of your estate to the Battersea Dogs and Cats home, but you are now worth ten times more than you used to be. You may want to update your Will to make sure that bequests like this are still appropriate.
3. When you have a change of heart
Your Will is an opportunity to do some wonderful things. You can give money to your favourite nephew to travel the World, you can give your piano to your granddaughter, you can give a percentage of your estate to your favourite charity.
With your assets being distributed between loved ones and organisations that are meaningful to you, it is no surprise that over your lifetime, your feelings towards your beneficiaries may change.
It could be as simple as a falling out with a family member, or there could be a charity that becomes an important part of your life. You may want to recognise the work of that charity through a bequest in your Will.
You are free to update your Will whenever you have a change of heart, and want to alter the distribution of your assets.
4. When somebody in your Will has a change
This is the curious thing about Wills. If you write a Will with a solicitor, it is quite possible for your Will to be out-of-date before you get home.
People can appear in your Will as key appointments; your Executor, or Guardians for your children. Or they can appear as beneficiaries.
If somebody named in your Will has a change of circumstance, then you should update your Will.
For example, your alternate Executor may develop health issues that means they can no longer fulfil their responsibilities. Your Guardians may have moved to Australia, or had triplets of their own.
One of your beneficiaries, may have received a windfall of their own, so receiving £10,000 from your estate is no longer meaningful to them. This bequest would be much more gratefully received by another beneficiary.
You should regularly review your appointments and beneficiaries in your Will to make sure that your document still makes sense.
When do I NOT need to update my Will?
Occasionally laws change. There was a significant change in the laws of intestate distribution a couple of years ago. Also a recognition of civil partnerships came into effect in 2004. However, there has never been a change in Wills law that has required everybody to update their existing Wills.
What happens if you move house? Your Will may say “This is the Last Will and Testament of me, John Smith, of 123 Orchard Lane, Norwich, Norfolk”. If you then moved to Yorkshire would your Will still be valid?
The answer is yes. The Will simply has to clearly identify you. If this is where you were leaving when the Will was written, then this is perfectly fine, even if you are not living there when you died.
However, we would recommend that next time you update your Will, you use your new, current address.
The same of course applies if somebody named in your Will moves house. As long as they can be identified as the person you are referring to, then there is no problem. For the beneficiaries, your Executor will have to find them, so if you don’t update your Will, at least keep some documentation available to your Executor with the beneficiary’s current address.
Bear in mind that if you leave the country. You may need to take another look at your Wills and whether your estate is appropriately covered.
Somewhat related to this is a name change, for yourself or anybody named in your Will. Again, as long as the name was correct when you wrote the Will, the document is not automatically cancelled on a name change. But next time you update the Will, we would recommend updating the names.
How can I update my Will?
There are legally three approaches to updating your Will. You write on the Will, you prepare a codicil or you write a new Will.
Can I make handwritten changes to a Will?
This is not a recommended approach even for the most benign changes.
The changes in the example above are not legally acceptable. Clearly it is impossible to know who made the changes and when. How do we know that the changes weren’t made by an unscrupulous family member after the death of John Smith?
If John Smith wanted to change his Will in this way, he would need to initial each change and have two witnesses also sign or initial by each change. The whole approach is simply begging to be challenged.
If the Will is entirely in your own handwriting, then it is a holographic Will and technically does need to be witnessed. In theory, this means that you can make an edit to the Will without the edit needing to be witnessed. This is the approach taken by Aretha Franklin who left a complete mess of an estate administration for her loved ones to fight over in the courts. It was a totally irresponsible approach to preparing a Will.
Should I use a codicil?
Imagine back in the days before computers, when a skilled calligrapher finished your Will, and then you had a change of heart.
There needed to be a way to legally update the Will, without touching the original Will.
The approach was to prepare a “Codicil“. A document that follows the same legal signing requirements as a Will in that it must be signed in the presence of two witnesses.
A codicil typically makes reference to the original Will by saying something like “for clause 3, change the name of the Executor from Billy Black to Brian Gray”.
The document is then signed in the presence of two witnesses and attached to the Will.
The problem with codicils is that they can become confusing, particularly if multiple codicils are used. Imagine that the Will has a list of three charitable bequests, then a codicil removes one of the bequests, then a second codicil amends one of the bequests in the first codicil. The whole thing just becomes messy.
The advantages offered by a codicil are simply saving on the effort of preparing another Will. This was a great time saver before computers and printers, but today, codicils offer almost no benefit.
Preparing a new Will
This is the only correct way to make a change to a Will. If you want to add a charitable bequest to your Will, rather than writing the change in pen on the document, or trying to write a codicil, you should simply prepare a new Will. Oftentimes when you update a Will there are a few items to be reviewed, so it is a good opportunity to take another look at all of the parts of your Will and make sure that they still reflect your wishes.
If you used an online service to write your Will, and you want to change the name of your Executor for example. You would just login to your account, navigate to the appropriate page, make the change and print a new Will to be signed.
How much does it cost to update a Will?
If you prepare your Will with a solicitor or professional Will writer, the cost to update a Will is generally the same as the cost to prepare the Will itself, about £300 to £500.
No solicitor will ever change a clause in a Will that they haven’t previously written. Usually, an update to a Will triggers a complete review of the document to make sure that it still reflects your situation.
Occasionally we hear of solicitors charging on a per-alteration basis, with a minimum charge. For example £100 per change, even if those changes are relatively trivial (like changing the name of the Executor).
If you use an online Will writing service, many allow you to make updates free of charge for a period of time, or charge you each time you want to make a change.
For example, at LegalWills.co.uk the Will service costs £24.95. With this payment, you are able to prepare your Will, it also gives you one year of unlimited updates to the document. You are able to print the document as often as you wish during that first year. You can download it as a PDF or Word file, but to make your document a legal Will, it must be printed and signed in the presence of two witnesses. The online version is there for your convenience only.
If you choose not to maintain an account with us after the first year, your initial payment is all you will ever pay. We do not keep credit card details on file and cannot automatically charge beyond this initial payment.
You can if you wish choose to store your documents online for longer than a year which will make it easier to make updates in the future to reflect any changes in your personal or financial situation (rather than returning to a solicitor each time). This is of course optional, but it does make the process of maintaining your document more convenient. £9.95 will give you one additional year of updates, or you can purchase multiple years e.g. 5 years at £19.95, 10 years at £29.95, 25 years at £59.95 or Lifetime for £99.95.
Every time you make an update to your Will, it must be printed and signed in the presence of two witnesses again. If you choose not to maintain an account with us, you will always have your printed, signed document. If you don’t need to make changes to that document, it will last you for the rest of your life, whether or not you have an account with us.
Do I have to update my Will if I move house?
No. Your Will may or may not include your full address. But it is there simply to identify you. If you were John Smith of 123 Rosemary Lane, Luton, when you signed the Will, then is doesn’t matter that you have moved when the Will comes into effect. It is still clearly your Last Will and Testament.
Similarly, if you have included a bequest to your niece Jennifer White, but she gets married and takes her husband’s surname. The bequest will still go to Jennifer as you clearly identified who you meant. Nobody else can step forward and claim to be the beneficiary. And it shouldn’t be too difficult for your Executor to understand that Jennifer Brown, used to be Jennifer White before she got married.
Do I need to update my Will if I buy something or open a new bank account?
We would generally recommend not including a list of assets in the Will itself. You don’t know when your Will is going to come into effect, and your assets are likely to change over time. This would require you to update your Will every time you opened a new bank account, or made a major purchase. Furthermore, once a Will is probated, it becomes a public document that everybody can read. You may not want details of all of your assets made public.
If a particular item has a specific beneficiary that is different to the main beneficiary of your estate, then yes, it must be included. So if everything it going to say, your son , except for a piece of art which is going to your nephew, then the piece of art has to be included in your Will. If you then sell that piece of art, you may want to review or update your Will to ensure that your nephew is still being treated fairly.
It does make sense to list your assets in order to help your Executor administer the estate. They have to gather your assets, and it is helpful to have the accounts documented so that they can be sure that nothing is forgotten. But not in the Will itself.
At LegalWills.co.uk we provide two options for this. Under the MyWill service there is a downloadable form labeled “List your Personal Details & Assets (PDF file)”. You can save this to your computer and update it whenever you need to. This is not a legal document, so does not have to be signed and witnessed.
We also have a MyLifeLocker service which is an online version of the same document. You can then set up access to the document for your Executor, so they can download your LifeLocker at the appropriate time and all the information they need will be captured in a single document.
By listing assets in this way, it saves you having to update your Will every time an asset changes.
How can I write a new Will?
There are broadly speaking, three ways to write a new Will;
1. Write your own starting with a blank sheet of paper or do-it-yourself kit
A do-it-yourself Will kit is the cheapest approach to writing a Will, but as we saw with Aretha Franklin, it’s a disaster waiting to happen. You should only use this approach if you are in an absolutely desperate situation.
This is actually the most difficult approach to writing a Will. You may be able to express something simple like “everything to go to my spouse”, but situations are rarely that simple.
You probably wouldn’t know how to describe an alternate plan, a trust for a young beneficiary, guardianship appointments, powers to the Executor, bequests to charities. There are a number of clauses that should appear in any well drafted Will, and unless you have a law degree, you would find it very difficult to write these correctly.
Even with a simple kit like this one, you are being asked to list the powers of the Executor. Most untrained people would have no idea how to complete this section.
2. Write a Will with a solicitor or professional Will writer
This is an excellent approach to receiving a well drafted Will, but it can be expensive, and it is usually not very convenient. Particularly if you want to make updates in the future. Even if the Will writing service offers home appointments, what do you do if you want to change the name of your Executor? Will the service return to your home every time you need to make a change?
3. Use software or an online interactive service
An increasing popular approach is to use an online interactive service like the one at LegalWills.co.uk. Generally, these services use the same software used by solicitors, but with a user-friendly front end. This gives everybody the same access to a well drafted Last Will and Testament, at a 90 percent discount from a solicitor’s rates.
These services also have the benefit of being extremely convenient. A Will can be updated from a computer, iPad or phone at any time, from anywhere in the World. It can take just a couple of minutes to update your Will, and often at no cost.
I have an existing Will, can I use LegalWills.co.uk?
Yes, but you will be creating a brand new Will. You can do this in about 20 minutes, and the total cost is £24.95.
The service works by stepping you through ten sections, asking about your family situation, key appointments, and the distribution of your assets. These sections have subsections that deal with things like pet trusts and charitable bequests.
At the end, your document is compiled, and you can then download and print the document as a Word or PDF file.
The document must then be signed in the presence of two adult witnesses who are not beneficiaries in the Will. These can be any two adults; friends, neighbours or co-workers, as long as they have nothing to gain from the contents of the Will.
Once it is signed and witnessed, it becomes a legal Last Will and Testament. There is no requirement to have the document notarized, stamped, or signed by a lawyer. Nor does the document need to be registered.
You simply store the document somewhere safe, in a place that is known and accessible to your Executor. After you have passed away, your Executor should take the document to your local probate court, where it is accepted as your Will, and filed with the courts.
It’s simple. Click, Print and Sign.
Tim Hewson is one of the founders of LegalWills.co.uk.
He has over 20 years of experience helping people to write their Will and other estate planning documents. He has been interviewed by many of the major news media outlets and has contributed to articles in most leading publications. He has also contributed to a number of financial planning books.
Throughout his career, Tim has written extensively on the subject of Will writing and estate planning.
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