Changing a will may not be as straightforward as you think: Get it wrong and your beneficiaries may miss out on a large sum of money. Likewise, if you revoke a will incorrectly your estate may end up in the wrong hands, such as the tax-collector.
In addition, you will can be changed after your death if you have not left enough money for your dependants or have tacked unreasonable conditions on your gifts.
Changing a will at the drop of a hat can be even worse than never reviewing it at all. All changes to your existing will must be signed and witnessed in the same way as your original will. This is time-consuming and, if you use a solicitor, expensive process. Always ask yourself: is the change really necessary?
Marriage and divorce are two of the most common reasons for changing a will.
If you get married after making a will, by law your will is revoked (cancelled). The law presumes that your wishes have changed, as you now have a spouse. If you die without making a fresh will – you are deemed to have died intestate, with all the potentially troublesome consequences that can entail. If you have a complex estate with lots of different assets and beneficiaries and you get married, you’re probably best off drawing up a new will. However, if you have a simple estate you can use a codicil, simply inserting your new partner as the main beneficiary of your estate.
Divorce has the effect of cutting off your ex-spouse out of the will entirely. The law presumes that you do not wish to give your former spouse any part of your estate. Instead their share of the estate to whoever would have inherited had you ex-spouse died at the date of the divorce. Therefore, if you named an alternative beneficiary to your spouse, the gift goes to them. Alternatively, if you haven’t named a beneficiary, the gift becomes par of your estate residues. The remainder of your will still be valid.
If you are on good terms with your ex and/or children are involved, you may still want your ex to benefit from your estate. In these circumstances you must amend your will by adding a codicil, stating so.
You can negate the effects of divorce on your will by stating in your will that your spouse should inherit even if you’re not married anymore.
If you named your spouse as the executor in your will, they are barred as the acting executor upon divorce.
Remember that, if you own property on a beneficial joint ownership basis with your ex-spouse, he or she automatically inherits your part when you die. If you don’t want this to happen, amend the terms in which you own the property.
Expectation of Marriage
You can make a will in expectation of marriage, also referred to as contemplation of marriage. This type of will enables you to leave property and assets to your intended spouse and won’t be instantly revoked on your wedding day. To make sure that your will in expectation of marriage doe what you want it to do, write in the opening clauses of your will: “This will is made by me, (your name), in expectation of my marriage to (your intended spouse’s name).”
If the marriage, for whatever reason, does not take place – a will in expectation of marriage will be automatically revoked. You can also revoke the will in the normal way.
If you then marry someone else other than the person named as your intended spouse – your will made in expectation is automatically revoked.