Research done on behalf of Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) has found that almost half of UK adults who have a Will have not updated it for more than five years.
SFE is a national association of independent lawyers who specialise in legal matters for the elderly and vulnerable. They understand the difficulties that can arise when people do not leave an up to date Will and commissioned the report to assess the extent of the problem.
Their study found that 47% of those with Wills had not updated it in the recommended five-year period. It also uncovered the following:
- Only 44% of those questioned realised that without a Will, the law will decide who inherits their estate
- Only 33% understood that a couple who are living together but who are not married or in a civil partnership will not inherit each other’s assets
- Only 34% knew that their spouse or civil partner would not automatically inherit their full estate if they did not leave a Will
What happens if your Will is out of date?
If you do not check your Will regularly, there is a risk that your estate might not pass to your loved ones in the way that you want.
For example, difficulties are likely to arise in the following situations:
- Your chosen executor is no longer able to take on the role
- Someone named in the Will, such as an executor, trustee, guardian or beneficiary, has died
- You have married since you made your Will
- You have divorced since you made your Will
- Your financial circumstances have changed since you made your Will
- A beneficiary is facing a divorce
- A beneficiary is bankrupt
- You are in a new relationship
- You have had a child since you made your Will
What happens if your Will is no longer fit for purpose?
Where a Will has become outdated, it could make the estate much harder to administer or it might mean that your loved ones miss out on the inheritance you would have liked them to have.
If your executor cannot take on the role, perhaps because they are unwell or have died, your beneficiaries will have to work out who is entitled to act in their place. There is a risk that this could cause a disagreement if people have different opinions about who should take on the role of dealing with your estate.
If you have married since you made your Will, it will automatically be invalid and your estate is said to be intestate. It will pass in accordance with the Rules of Intestacy. This does not mean that your spouse will automatically inherit everything. If you have children, you may find that they would inherit much less under the Rules than you would have liked them to.
If you have divorced, then anything bequeathed to your former spouse in your Will is no longer left to them. This could mean that part or all of your estate is intestate and again, it would pass under the Rules of Intestacy.
Where one of your chosen beneficiaries is facing a divorce or bankruptcy, you may want to take steps to protect any assets you are leaving them. Otherwise, these could be taken in a divorce settlement or pass straight to the trustee in bankruptcy.
Reviewing your Will
It is recommended that a Will is reviewed at least once every five years as well as in the light of any major life changes. These include marriage, the birth of a child, buying a home, divorcing or a change in your financial circumstances.