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The seven ‘trigger’ points in life which mean you should review your will

Paloma Kubiak
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Paloma Kubiak

The number of disputes over wills, trusts and probate has doubled over the past decade so it’s essential you review your will regularly to ensure your estate is left to the right beneficiaries. Below we list the key life points which should trigger a re-assessment.

In the 10 years from 2004, the number of people disputing trusts and estates in the High Court more than doubled from 289 to 623. While no-one wants to think about what will happen when they die, “prevention is better than the cure,” says Matthew Evans, a partner and head of wealth management services at law firm Hugh James.

“Prudent estate planning is something we should all think about throughout our lives, but there are a number of ‘trigger’ events which should prompt us to consider making or reviewing our wills,” he adds.

Below are seven such life stages which should act as reminder to re-assess your will:

1) Marriage or civil partnership

Unless a will is made specifically in contemplation of a marriage or civil partnership, this event has the effect of revoking any earlier will.

Many people assume that without a will everything will pass to your spouse or civil partner on death, but that’s not always the case, especially if one or both of you have children.

As second marriages become increasingly common, you should consider the impact this may have on any children from a previous marriage who could potentially lose out on an inheritance.

For example, children from a first marriage may lose out where, say, a parent remarries and dies without a will leaving an estate worth £250,000.  In that case, the entire £250,000 would pass to the second wife with no benefit to any children from the first marriage.

2) Separation or divorce

If you have a will, a divorce has the effect of treating your ex-spouse or civil partner as having “predeceased” you, that is, dying before you.

Prior to a divorce being finalised, a spouse or civil partner would still stand to benefit either where there is no will, or where a will names them as a beneficiary.

3) Children

In the same way we’d look to take out life cover to protect our children or grandchildren, we should also consider whether or not we need to review what happens to the remainder of our estates on death.

A will can cover things such as at what age children can benefit, whether guardians should be appointed for your children and, if so, who, and whether money should be held in trust for the children.

It’s also important to note the rules in respect of blood children are the same whether you are married or not. Step-children are not treated in the same way and so, unless specific provision is made for them under a will, they would not benefit on intestacy – the term given for when a person dies without a will.

The flow chart below details how intestacy rules could affect you and your family (includes adopted children, but excludes step-children).

YM.IntestacyRulesTable (002)

4) House purchase

Buying a home is often the most significant single purchase most of us will make and this should also be a time when we consider what we want to happen to that home when we die.

Exactly how you purchase your house is also of significance. If it’s as joint tenants, on the death of one of the joint owners, their share passes automatically to the surviving owner(s), irrespective of what the will says and whether or not you leave a will at all.  However, if you own a property as tenants-in-common then you can gift your share of the property under a will or, if there is no will, then your share passes not to any co-owner(s) necessarily, but in accordance with the intestacy rules.

5) Receiving an inheritance or windfall

Receiving an inheritance or otherwise coming into money is often the first time that many of us will consider broadening our investment strategies.

The aim of many investments is capital growth and so careful consideration should be given to what would happen to any such investment in the event of your death.

6) The Budget and changes to the law

The Budget and Autumn Statements usually precede that year’s Finance Act, often resulting in changes to law and tax, such as Capital Gains Tax (CGT) and Inheritance Tax (IHT), exemptions and reliefs.

If you’ve written your will in a tax-efficient way, while it may have minimised CGT or IHT on 5 April, a change in law taking effect in the new tax year on 6 April may mean you need to review your will.

7) Death of a loved one

Any assets which are left to that person may either pass to other beneficiaries under the will, that person’s children or fall outside of the will altogether and be dealt with by the rigid intestacy rules.

Alternatively, if you do not have a will, the death of a loved one may vary the entitlement of any other relatives who would stand to benefit on intestacy or, where there are no such relatives, may mean that your estate passes in its entirety to the Crown.