Life is like a constantly changing story. You start with a plan and mind, establish your settings and meet different people. But gradually, things change, situations develop and your life can look very different in a short space of time. That’s where the importance of having a well-executed will and quality estate planning comes into play.
But as things change, your plans need to follow suit. The trouble is, it’s not easy to plan and prepare for things adequately. Among many other challenges, we’re often left wondering “how often should I update my will”?
That’s where consulting with an experienced wills and estates lawyer can help you prepare for the future. So, read on as we explain how often you should update your will, and offer expert tips to help you manage your estate.
Why Do I Need a Will?
Having a will is like leaving a clear roadmap for your loved ones after you’re gone. Its primary purpose is simple: to ensure your instructions are followed and all your beneficiaries receive the right parts of your estate. If you were to pass away without a will (known as dying intestate), it can lead to complex and uncertain situations where your assets may not be divided as intended, potentially creating conflict among family members.
A will serves as your ever-present voice, working as your master plan for asset distribution. But it also does more than this. If you were to pass without a will, your family could endure a lengthy wait to receive your assets through the court system. Your various documentation would need to be assessed, and it would drag out a difficult process for your family members, whilst also seeing them unnecessary legal fees.
How Often Should You Update Your Will?
Whether done individually or with the help of a solicitor, writing a will is an important step to take in securing your family’s future. However, it is recommended that you revisit and update your will every 3-5 years to ensure it remains a true reflection of your intentions. However, more frequent reviews of your will, such as annual reviews, will ensure you have an intimate understanding of its details and can prepare for any upcoming changes in your life.
Whilst this is a general guide, there are various events that prompt any individual to update their will. Marriage, divorce, or an expanded family tree with new arrivals like children or grandchildren may see you update your will. Or, if people you’ve entrusted with key roles like executors, guardians, or attorneys are no longer able to fulfil these duties, it’s time for an update.
Your financial situation is equally important. You may need to update your will more frequently if you have experienced significant changes, such as inheritance, property sales, or rapid fluctuations in your wealth in a short space of time. Neglecting these updates might mean your will fails to align with your new intentions, potentially causing confusion and sites among your loved ones.
How Do You Change Your Will?
Now that you know how often to update your will and the situations that might make these changes necessary, the next step is to consider how to change your will. Fortunately, updating your will in Australia is a straightforward process but to ensure your wishes are accurately reflected, you need to understand each step of the process.
Review Your Existing Will
Begin by carefully examining your current will. Identify the changes you want to make, whether they are minor tweaks or significant alterations that affect asset distribution, beneficiaries, or your chosen executor.
Prepare A New Will or Codicil
If you only need to make minor changes, you can opt for a Codicil. This is a specialised legal document that works to amend your existing will. For more substantial changes, creating an entirely new will may be necessary. You may wish to consult a wills and estates expert to ensure your new will or Codicil complies with the laws and regulations specific to your state or territory.
Sign The New Will or Codicil:
Your updated will or Codicil now must be signed and dated in the presence of at least two witnesses. These individuals must be over 18 and cannot be beneficiaries of your will. These witnesses should sign the document in your presence and in the presence of each other.
Hold On To The Original Document
Keep the original copy of your updated will or Codicil in a secure place, filed away for future reference if ever required. This ensures that the legally valid document remains protected.
Inform All Relevant Parties
It’s important to inform your appointed executor and all beneficiaries of the changes you’ve made to your will. You may also wish to provide them each with a copy of the updated document to prevent any confusion or disputes in the future.
Do I Need Any Other Estate Planning Documents?
While your will forms the basis of your estate plan, there are other documents that are vital for comprehensive protection. One such document is a letter of intent, which provides guidance to your loved ones on how to handle your personal affairs, sentimental assets, and final wishes. It complements your will and adds a more personal touch whilst also clarifying your wishes in an individual manner.
It’s also important to remember that naming an individual as executor of your will does not automatically grant them power of attorney, and vice versa. To prepare for both situations, you’ll need a will to manage your assets and wishes after your passing, and a power of attorney document to designate someone to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.
These documents work in tandem to ensure your estate is handled seamlessly, but they are only effective when drafted precisely and with an understanding of your unique circumstances. To assist in this process, you may wish to consult with a wills and estates lawyer who can help you create a comprehensive estate plan that’s tailored to your individual circumstances.
Update Your Will With The Help of Expert Solicitors
Your will is a powerful tool that helps to shape your legacy, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. To ensure your wishes and followed and your estate plan remains airtight, consider the bigger picture. Get in touch with a solicitor specialising in wills and estates, and make sure your will is created and updated to follow all requirements and ensure your estate is handled with the respect it deserves.