Writing a will is a job that not many people relish. But, once it’s done, it’s done. Right? Not necessarily. According to studies, the average useful lifespan of a will is around eight years. What does that mean? It means that, in many cases, within eight years of you writing your will something will have happened to cause you to need to change it. It won’t be the case with everyone, and a large number of people really can simply write their will and then forget all about it (apart from letting loved ones know where it’s kept, of course). However, wills do sometimes need to be updated, and if they aren’t then there can be problems when it comes to probate and executing the will.
When should you update your will?
If something major happens in your life, then think how that will impact your will. Marriage is one of these major life events, as is divorce. If either of these things occur after you have initially written your will, then you will most likely need to update it to include or remove people from it.
Children are another reason to update your will. It is likely that you will want them to inherit some or all of your estate, so they need to be mentioned in your will. Guardians are also an important aspect to include if your children are under 18. And if they turn 18 after you have written the will then the guardians should be removed as they will not be required.
The death of anyone who is mentioned in your will will also mean that it needs updating, and the same is true if you fall out with anyone who was originally meant to inherit. If you change your mind, change your will, otherwise the people you don’t want to inherit will do so anyway.
On 5th December 2005, same sex civil partnerships were officially recognised (thanks to the Civil Partnership Act 2004). This means that, for the past decade, it has been entirely possible for the surviving partner of a same sex civil partnership to inherit from their deceased partner in the same was as a spouse would inherit from their deceased husband or wife.
Therefore, if there is no will then the rules of intestacy will be used in order to split the estate and any assets, assuming the civil partnership has been formally recognised. The rules of intestacy state that a spouse or civil partner is the first to be recognised when splitting the estate, and after that are any children, including those from a previous relationship.
Making a will means that, assuming it is a valid will, there will be no need to employ intestacy rules – this can save time and a messy legal situation which can be upsetting for everyone at an already difficult time. A civil partnership will is really no different to any other will; it is a reflection of why you want to happen to your money, property, assets and possessions after you die. Therefore there is no reason why someone in a civil partnership shouldn’t write a will; it makes it easier on everyone involved.
For same sex couples who have not had a formally recognised civil partnership ceremony, a will is the only way to ensure that their surviving partner will inherit anything. The rules of intestacy do not cover ‘unpartnered survivors’. It doesn’t matter if the couple have been together for decades, nor how happy they may have been – if there is no will then the rules of intestacy dictate that, since there is no spouse, the children are next in line to inherit. If there are no children, it is the deceased’s parents, grandparents, siblings and so on. But a partner is not mentioned at all. This can be challenged using the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1974, but it can take a long time and be very expensive. It is better all round if a will is made in the first place.