When Should I Update my Will?

It's something many of us put off. But if you want to save the headache later down the line, facing it head on is key

WORDS BY
Maria Collinge
Published
January 19, 2024
Keeping this document up-to-date provides peace of mind while ensuring that your wishes are carried out as intended (Photo: Matthew Adington/Unsplash)
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Personal Finance
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If you've ever asked yourself, “when should I update my will?” the answer is simpler than you might think. Your will is a legal document that outlines how your assets, finances, and possessions should be distributed upon your death. It also appoints someone to act as the executor of your estate. Keeping this document up-to-date provides peace of mind while ensuring that your wishes are carried out as intended.

So you’ve got yourself a will sorted out, top work. But now what? Your life (hopefully) isn’t going to look the same for the rest of time and there will most probably be some significant changes that will mean you should update your will to ensure that it’s relevant and not potentially problematically out of date if you were to pass away.

Take a look at the below scenarios as to when you should update your will.

Marriage

As soon as both partners reciting the vows, marriage becomes a binding event that has many automatic legal implications - including the update of each partner's will. As exciting (and sometimes overwhelming) as it can be to plan for the wedding ceremony and the honeymoon that follows, consider checking off the update of your will before you tie the knot. This is one important admin task that shouldn't get lost in all of your preparation and planning!

Make sure the proper provisions are included so your wishes are clear and changes such as beneficiaries, executors and guardians are defined in case of tragedy or other events that may occur further down the line. Look at it this way: updating your will with your partner can also provide an opportunity to discuss expectations and ensure you are both on the same page about important decisions. It's not a glamorous topic but it is a necessary one for all married couples.

Marriage becomes a binding event that has many automatic legal implications - including the update of each partner's will (Image: Female Invest)

Having children

Becoming a parent is one of the most significant shifts in life, and it's important to update your will when that happens. A new arrival into your family means that you can now start bequeathing heirlooms and sentimental items. Even if you're not married, those treasured items are sure to a fantasy tug-of-war between siblings if something happened to you, so make sure your will is up to date.

Also consider designated guardians, their financial needs and future education expenses in the event that you should pass - these elements need to be carefully laid out in order for your children to thrive without a primary caretaker or provider.

Ultimately, making sure that your wishes are documented and explicit is the best way to ensure that everything goes as planned when you are no longer here to protect them. Speak to your lawyer or financial advisor soon to update any plans for an ever-growing family and ensure that your hard-earned possessions are not caught up in future petty sibling rivalries.

Becoming a parent is one of the most significant shifts in life, and it's important to update your will when that happens (Image: Unsplash)

Buying a house

When it comes to buying a house, it’s not only an incredibly big decision, but also a valuable asset worth protecting. Hence why it’s important to update your will accordingly. This will ensure that all your hard work doesn’t go to waste, and that your heirs will be able to benefit from the financial security of owning the property. So whether this is the first time you’re buying a house or if you’re planning to upgrade for a bigger space down the line, make sure you update your will so that your home will be in good hands upon death.

When preparing your update, make sure to include information such as who currently lives in the home, when it was purchased, when it was finished being constructed, and any modifications that have been made. In addition, providing property records such as existing mortgages can prevent disputes regarding rightful ownership. Allowing for the transfer of ownership over your home quickly and easily is the ultimate goal of including these details in your will.

Buying and selling assets

Whether you're in the market for a breakneck speedboat or a much-craved vintage car, buying and selling of assets can be quite the thrill. Just remember to update your will with any new investments. After all, it's your responsibility to make sure that your estate divvies up according to your wishes when the time comes.

To update your will effectively, it’s important to identify existing assets and account for any changes that have occurred during the period since the last update. Whether you have bought a new car or sold jewellery from a past inheritance, it’s important to update your will to include these changes. Any discrepancies in asset ownership could invalidate wills and cause unwanted issues down the road. Taking the necessary steps to update your will ensures that all of your assets are accounted for and protected.

Divorce

For those facing divorce, it's important to update your will to ensure your wishes are still met. Though the currently blissful picture of marriage is what we all strive for, don’t forget that divorce is a fact of life and can bring with it a lot of financial upheaval. Be sure to update your beneficiaries according to the new marital status - it is unlikely your ex would be happy about inheriting all your worldly possessions post-divorce.

Upon the dissolution of a marriage, many estate- and asset-related implications arise. Most states do not recognize an ex-spouse as a party in a pre-existing will once the divorce is final, so updating your will at that point is absolutely necessary.

To update your will accordingly, you should consider several things such as who you would like to name executors, who would receive assets and possessions of value to you and who may have financial responsibilities for any children from the marriage. This may feel painful in the moment, but preparing now ensures that your wishes are carried out in the event something happens to you down the road.

Updating your will is essential not only to ensure that these individuals are removed properly but also so someone else can take their place if needed (Image: Female Invest)

Death of a significant other

The death of a relevant individual in your life can lead to unexpected changes when it comes to your will. In the event that any of the people enquoted on your will, whether they be executors or beneficiaries, pass away before you do, updating your will is essential not only to ensure that these individuals are removed properly but also so someone else can take their place if needed.

This update process should also occur if any of the original individuals on the will undergo any major life changes such as marriage and/or divorce. Keeping your will up to date is a proactive measure to make sure everything runs smoothly when you have moved on from this world.

Inheriting money

As a beneficiary of an inheritance, you should update your will to make sure that all of your newly acquired assets are documented, protected and accounted for. All the hard work or planning by your predecessors which has enabled you to receive the inheritance should be respected and secured, giving you peace of mind that any financial gains made can be passed down in accordance with your wishes. Whether it is money, property or something else, put in the work now to update your will so that future generations can benefit too!

Understanding where the inheritance money should go can make all the difference in ensuring those around you remain taken care of when the time comes. Pay attention to the beneficiaries you have identified and update accordingly and make sure that those closest to you are still the primary beneficiaries. Additionally, consider more modern methods, such as trusts and other estate-planning tools that may help ensure your vision is executed properly. 

What happens if I don't update my will?

If you don't update your will regularly, then you could be leaving your inheritance in the hands of fate. Without a valid, updated will in place, the authorities might decide to distribute your assets for you, and this may not be in line with your wishes. Wills should be updated at least every five years. This way, all of the relevant details can be taken care of so that those closest to you can benefit from what you've left behind.

Final thoughts

Updating a will isn’t difficult but it does require attention to detail and some knowledge of local laws and regulations so make sure you take adequate time when making changes or creating a new one altogether. Furthermore, having experienced legal personnel review any changes before they become official can save you both time and money down the road while providing peace of mind knowing that all bases have been covered. 

So don't wait until it's too late - when significant life changes occur, make sure you take some time out of your schedule to review or revise your existing will documents so they remain valid. Older women especially should take extra care when revising their wills so as not leave behind any loose ends for their loved ones after they pass away. Taking these simple steps now can go a long way in ensuring that everyone's wishes are met without any issues further down the line.

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Personal Finance

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