“Death always comes without knocking” (Margaret Atwood)
Particularly in these times of pandemic, deadly infections and uncertainty, no one can ever say with any confidence that we will still be alive tomorrow, or next month, or next year.
Now more than ever having a valid and updated will in place is no luxury to be attended to “when I have the time” or “when I am older”.
The risk is that without a proper will (your “Final Will and Testament”) you die “intestate”, in which event the law and not you decides which of your heirs gets what from your estate. You have forfeited your right to ensure that your loved ones are properly looked after when you are gone. You have lost your right to decide how your assets will be distributed on your death. And you have no say in who will wind up your estate as Executor. Executing a valid will is the only way to avoid all that.
Then – just as importantly – once you have your will done and dusted, avoid the very common mistake of forgetting to update it regularly.
Nine events to trigger an update review
Don’t leave your loved ones struggling with an outdated will. Firstly diarise frequent review dates. Then keep in mind the many changes in circumstances that will require interim review –
- Times of great change in your health risk profile: The current COVID-19 pandemic exposes us all to the threat of a sudden and radical change in our health status, and that (or indeed any new diagnosis or other actual change to your risk profile) calls for an immediate review of your will. Now more than ever it has to be fully up to date.
- Marriage: Have I or any of my heirs married, re-married, changed marital regime (in or out of community of property, with our without accrual), entered into or left a life partnership or the like? Does my will tie in with my marital regime and ante-nuptial contract if any?
- Divorce: Have there been any divorces? This is vital because so many couples leave everything to their spouses. And if for example that applies to you and you divorce, you have only a three month window period within which to change your will. For three months your ex-spouse is effectively disinherited; but if you don’t change your will within that window period your ex-spouse inherits everything.
- Birth or adoption: Have there been any births or adoptions, do you have new children or grandchildren? This is particularly important if your will specifically names all heirs without a catch-all phrase that will include new children/grandchildren.
- Death: Has anyone died and if so must any specific bequests or anything else change?
- Other changes in personal circumstances: Have any of your heirs undergone a relevant change in circumstances, perhaps become more financially vulnerable for whatever reason (serious illness or motor vehicle accident causing disability, loss of bread-winner for example)?
- Changes in assets, liabilities, financial and business structures etc: Have you sold any assets named in your will, or acquired assets that you would like to bequeath specially to a particular heir or that necessitate a re-allocation of bequests? Perhaps existing assets have changed dramatically in value? What about new liabilities, such as perhaps a new bond over a property which will reduce its value to a particular beneficiary?
Have you formed or deregistered any trusts or asset-holding structures? Have you started or acquired or sold a business to be earmarked for a particular beneficiary? Do you have any new assets overseas that may call for a separate foreign will?
- Executor, Trustees, Guardians: Is there any need to review your appointments of Executors, Trustees, Guardians?
- Changes in the law: Have there been any changes in relevant laws, either through legislation or new court decisions? Tax laws in particular can change unexpectedly and affect the continued suitability of your estate planning.
How to update your will
If you plan major changes to your will, consider making an entirely new one but if the changes are minor a codicil may suffice. In both cases you need to comply with important legal requirements so professional advice is critical here!