Life events usually trigger a need to review a Will. The most significant of these is marriage or entering into a civil partnership, since any previous Will is revoked, unless it has been made in contemplation of that marriage or civil partnership. This is the case even if both parties have already provided for each other in their existing Wills.
On divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership, although the law automatically writes an ex-spouse/civil partner out of the Will, the Will would have been drafted around a relationship that no longer exists. It may even cause an intestacy or partial intestacy, with the inevitable problems that can arise. Some individuals may wish their Will to continue to provide for their ex-spouse/civil partner, particularly if there are dependent children. Anyone who is divorced or where a civil partnership has been dissolved should review their Will. The same applies if spouses/civil partners go their own ways, as until the divorce or dissolution their Wills are not altered.
The arrival of children is an obvious time when a Will should be reviewed. Most well drafted Wills will make provision for future children; however a Will may have been drafted at a time when children were not contemplated. One of the most important decisions a parent can make for their children is the appointment in their Wills of guardians, who will look after minor children if their parents die prematurely.
The death or serious illness of an executor or beneficiary is an occasion to alter a Will. Not all events require a new Will; some can adequately be dealt with by way of a Codicil, and others, such as changes of name or addresses, by a letter to be placed with the Will.
Relocation or acquiring assets abroad, or for those settling or investing here, are situations to alter existing testamentary arrangements. Estate planning issues invariably arise. For example, in August 2015 an EU Succession Regulation comes into effect. It will not apply to the UK; nevertheless, it will have a major impact on UK citizens and those domiciled in the UK, who wish to have their affairs governed by an English Will, but live in another Member State in the EU or have substantial assets there. While the issues this Regulation will give rise to are complex, a choice of law declaration may be a sensible option for incorporation into a new Will or a Codicil.
As is clear from recent national press coverage, challenges to Wills and claims to inheritance entitlements are on the increase. There are various reasons for this and it is not always possible to avoid disputes of this nature. However, many potential issues can be addressed by sensibly timed reviews of an existing Will and a greater account taken of potential claims for financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) 1975 Act.
Another Act passed in 2014 makes important changes to a number of areas of the law that include inheritance rights affecting intestacy, personal chattels and also trustees’ powers for maintenance or capital advances. While not immaterial, they probably do not require a change to a well-drafted Will. However, amendments to the 1975 Act may need to be considered. They give more flexibility in the time to pursue some claims, increase those entitled to bring them and add to the courts’ powers to alter the rights of those involved.
Claims based on family relationships are widened and the definition of family is radically altered so it can even extend to a family of just one member. Family structures no longer follow traditional lines and the reforms of the law have to reflect that fact. The principal risks are claims by a current or former spouse/civil partner, or dependent children. However, as the powers and influence of the 1975 Act are widened, so more people will be encouraged to rely on that legislation. Judges, although mindful that English law still gives predominance to the testator’s right of choice as to those who should inherit their wealth, have to consider all claims the law now allows for.
It follows that when significant life events or family problems are anticipated or occur, they should be addressed and testamentary documents drafted or amended to seek to deal with them. It is not only changes to taxation laws that call for that review. Often it will result in no further action being taken, but it is still vitally important to keep testamentary affairs up to date.