How Often Should You Update Your Will and Why?

Anyone with a good estate planning lawyer knows they need a will, but something isn’t often discussed is the need to keep a will updated periodically. Think about it. Do you have a will? If yes, when was the last time you looked at it, or even thought about it? It’s very common for people to put time and effort into creating a will, but then keep it locked away, where it stays untouched until it needs to be used.

Unfortunately, by that time, your situation may have changed dramatically. Read on to find out more about when you should be regularly updating your will.

Keep up to date with the law every five years

New Zealand laws tend to change fairly frequently in the grand scheme of things. Every five years is a good benchmark for keeping up with major changes in legislation. To be fair, you probably won’t need to make any major changes in most of these cases, but the point is to check, just in case. Even if none of your personal circumstances have changed, it’s a great idea to double-check that your will has taken new laws into account.

Marriage and Separation

Marriage and separation are the life events that will most likely change and affect your will. A marriage can, in fact, completely alter the way a will is carried out. You may not know this, but if you have created a will before being married, the marriage voids the will unless a specific clause is added to the will before you get married.  Otherwise, it will no longer carry any weight in court, and the Administration Act will take over as if you never had a will at all.

Separation also has legal implications. After a regular separation—i.e., not a divorce—the will continues to treat your partner or ex-spouse as if they were still involved in your life. Therefore, it’s important to make sure that the will is updated after a separation too, even though it doesn’t invalidate the will.

Divorce, on the other hand, is slightly different. During divorce, all references to your ex-partner will be removed from the will, but all other clauses are left intact. This may seem convenient and ideal, but deleting someone from the existing will can end up creating unforeseen gaps. In this case, it’s best to update your will properly after a divorce regardless.

Children and Grandchildren

Many people assume children are automatically added to your will, but this is not true. Unless you explicitly name them in the document, they aren’t likely to receive anything. While updating a will to add your children, you’ll also have the opportunity to name a guardian for them, in the event of your passing.

Changes in Trusts, Companies, Assets and Debts

If you’ve set up a family trust since drafting your will, you need to update the will to reflect the existence of the trust. For example, if you want your property to transfer directly into the trust, then the will needs to state this; otherwise, the will can redirect the property before it is placed in the trust. Your will may also have the power to add trustees to replace you, or even add an appointee, who can then add or remove trustees as they see fit.

Many of these concepts also apply if you have started a company since drafting a will, as your shares in the company require explicit instructions in your will.

To speak more broadly about assets and debts, you need to be aware that changes in your asset portfolio can dramatically affect the reading of a will. If you have made arrangements for an asset to be gifted, but that asset no longer exists or no longer belongs to you when the will is read, then the receiver will not get anything, and also has no chance to be given anything as a substitute.

Want to know more?

There are plenty more factors that can impact a will, such as the death of those named in the will, or a whole range of other life changes. If you’d like to update your will, feel free to contact BMC Law; the best estate planning attorneys in Wellington. We are more than happy to help you get your affairs in order, as we know how important it can truly be. Reach out to us today.